Swervedriver – Last Train to Satansville (Live)

As a college dj for WRVU (woot woot) in the mid 90’s I had a weekly allotment of cds that needed to be previewed for key tracks and curse words. This was in the mid 90’s so endless post-Nirvana grunge was filling the airwaves, which, I would argue was the absolutely worst time for commercial Top 40 radio . I, for one, would much rather listen to pop drivel like Britney Spears, Spice Girls, than have to listen to joyless slag coming from Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, Bush, or god-forbid, Gin Blossoms. Around this nadir of commercial radio, the Swervedriver album “Mezcal Head” crossed my college desk for review. I remember thinking to myself; “Wow, this is the future of this whole grunge thing” – totally accessible, current and good to boot. I reviewed the album well and was looking forward to it to break big in a few months and usher in the future of the Nirvana vein of commercial rock and roll. Of course that didn’t happen: the world got Creed instead of Swervedriver.

The “Mezcal Head” era Swervedriver recently reformed and played a few highly anticipated shows here in NYC. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that the show was massive. My fellow rock enthusiast buddy and New Jersey based operative, Jamie (who is hopefully recovering well from the spinal damage he inflicted on himself from his neck-snapping head-banging during the set) says that this Swervedriver show might make his top five ever all time favorite shows.

Update: Hi, it’s the aforementioned NJ based operative here, and indeed it took me several days to recuperate from this show in several ways. Hadn’t had a whiplash injury since the first Slint reunion tour. In addition, it took several listens to the live versions of Mezcal Head and Raise (available at swervedriver.com) to realize that not only was the show better than those sets, but it was quite possibly better than any show I’ve seen in the past 6 years.

In 1993 I was 17 and stood one morning in line at the Turtle’s in Atlanta to get Smashing Pumpkins tickets for their upcoming 3 night stint. This burned out lookin’ dude with stringy hair and a Swervedriver t-shirt approached me and queried: “Gettin’ Swervedriver tickets, man?” Having never heard of them, I indignantly stated no. To which he replied: “Mark my words, you’re gonna be listening to Swervedriver a lot longer than Smashing Pumpkins.”

Several months later, in Fall 1993, I caught their second of 3 nights in Atlanta at the Center Stage Theater (after change of venue from Variety Playhouse for the “Viewphoria” video filming purposes.). The opening loop of Duress played as smoke filled the empty stage (Avalanche would have liked that). The guys came out, Jez started playing along and the roaring guitars started. As much of a Smashing Pumpkins fan as I was at that time, the Jazzmaster roar of the Swervedriver thumb-guitar players was devastating. I bought Mezcal Head as soon as I could.

Shortly thereafter they came back to Atlanta for a 21-up show so I had to miss that and then never had an opportunity again. So fast forward 15 years (!). In the meanwhile, I’ve listened to Mezcal Head at least monthly and Raise at least bi-annually. They are just unrelenting solid rawk albums start to finish.

A show like the one they put on at Bowery Ballroom delivers in contradistinction to ill-fated high school long-distance relationships: you idealize the individual in their absence and then they fail to deliver in person. Swervedriver reunited live was even better than that idealization. After years of absence in person but incessant listening all the while, they delivered with a blistering pace of songs, great song selection, and tone perfect guitars with the added bonus of Bowery Ballroom acoustics; and it was all ear-bleedingly loud. I don’t think I realized how good of a song “Deep Seat” is until I heard it live. The whole show was glorious. We couldn’t get enough.

Finally, I can’t remember the last time I listened to Gish or Siamese Dream. Suffice to say, soothsayers come in all shapes and sizes, apparently including stringy haired dudes in Swervedriver t-shirts.

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Download: Swervedriver – Last Train to Satansville (Live)

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