Swervedriver at King's Cross Scala, London, Tuesday 16th September supported by Six By Seven and Exit Calm.
Rarely has the expression 'there were grown men around me crying' been used more aptly than this evening, but about two-thirds of the way through the headliners' set, that's precisely what happened.
Before all that, Sheffield four-piece Exit Calm gave a performance that justified all the talk around them at the minute of being one of the best unsigned bands in the country. Although limited to just twenty-five minutes and five songs, their vast wall of sound now carries an added swagger of confidence that has already seen them blow The Music off stage every night for a fortnight earlier this summer and wow an unsuspecting midday audience at Glastonbury. Opener 'You've Got It All Wrong' is a scintillating mesh of brooding noise that even technical problems with guitarist Rob Marshall's space echo effects pedal can't ruin, while recent single 'Higher Learning' and its impending successor 'We're On Our Own' are fully fledged anthems in the making thanks in no small part to Nicky Smith's charismatic vocal performance. We really aren't kidding when we call Exit Calm the most exciting live prospect we've seen in many a moon.
Six. By Seven have been around the block that many times its easy to lose sight of just how many interesting and original phases they've encountered over the past decade or so. There's the melodic yet intense 'Ten Places To Die', the more upbeat 'Bochum', and the claustrophobic balladry of 'So Close'. They also possess a certain Chris Olley in their armoury, and this can be both advantageous and occasionally unsettling, as witnessed this evening. His imposing six feet six plus figure coupled with the obvious personal nature of his lyrics make him the ideal frontman for such a venture as Six. By Seven, but then there are also those moments when you wonder 'Why the hell did he just do that?', such as cutting the set short by one song and blaming it on the venue, insisting his band don't leave the stage until his say so and then instructing them to create a '30 second finale in the chord of A', Olley whipping off his t-shirt in the process and launching himself into the crowd. Call it madness or genius; it was highly memorable all the same.
So onto the return of Swervedriver, and despite the fact it's a good ten years since their last live show on British soil, the odd receding hairline excepted, you'd hardly tell they've been away. Although lumped in with the early-nineties shoegaze scene more through time and place (Oxford-based, signed to Creation Records) rather than actual sound, their music hasn't so much stood the test of time but actually carries a fresh appeal with it in 2008 compared to many of their other reformed contemporaries. Never ones to disguise their more Stateside rather than homegrown influences, it's perhaps no surprise to discover that much of their hiatus has been spent across the Atlantic.
Their set is something of an anthology as early singles like 'Sandblasted' rub shoulders impeccably with later material such as '99th Dream'. Nevertheless, it's the songs they dig out from 1993's 'Mezcal Head' era that seem to go down most vigorously with tonight's audience. 'Duel' is breathtaking, 'Blowin' Cool' incisive and 'Duress' a more than rightful claim to being one of the prototypes of this decade's post-rock phenomenon. When they roll out the triple whammy of 'Last Train To Satansville', 'Rave Down' and 'Son Of Mustang Ford' two-thirds of the way in, there are several tearful forty-somethings around me punching the air with one hand and drying their eyes with the other. Frontman Adam Franklin, short on banter throughout, let's a knowing smile tell its own story at the end.
Welcome back Swervedriver; just don't leave us waiting another decade 'til the next time.