Then-current album: Raise
Opening act: Ratcat, perhaps. But see below.
Back of ticket ad: KROQ, still world famous. Pretty sure MARS-FM played Swervedriver more, though.
Seeing so many of these ticket prices again is continuing to do my head in. $10 plus extra charges. This is probably why I don’t regularly go to anything on an arena level that isn’t the Cure or Depeche or Radiohead — see small shows, people! You’ll probably have a better time anyway!
Anyway, this show, which was actually the second of two shows, the first of which only a few people would have been invited to attend anyway. Welcome again to the world of promo concerts.
I mentioned my friend Kris in the Soundgarden entry the other day and how she ended up working at A&M — pretty much figured in thinking about these shows that she had to have been there at this point in time because of the invite that I got along with some other people to see a show in what I think was a rehearsal studio somewhere in…Culver City? These kind of shows are or maybe were very common, depending on the band, their willingness to work the system, how much the system wants them to work, etc. They’re the kind of shows you hear about in interviews where a band or musician usually complains about having to work some sort of label showcase or something where it’s not so much a paying crowd as a crowd that has been assembled by the label or is there for something else.
That said I’m not too sure if that invite was due to Kris or just via the radio station as well — might have been to Eric J. Lawrence, our station’s fearless leader at the time. Or something else entirely, but whatever the combination of events, the night before the show in the ticket I was off to this promo show with a small heap of folks, and something in the back of my mind makes me think this just might have been the night of the legendary non-sequitur war between my friends Jason B. and Steve M. held in the rock and roll Denny’s on Sunset. Could totally be wrong but that war was won by Steve M., who, after about half an hour of irresolute nonsense between Jason and himself, folded his hands together, leaned forward and said in a flat voice, “My telephone only dials to Cleveland.” Again, I can’t be sure if this was the show that caused all that, but it felt like it.
And again, that happened after the show. Wherever the heck it was, we and a bunch of others — including some honest-to-god fans, there must have been a contest or something at work — ended up in this venue that I can’t remember anything about beyond the fact that it had a balcony of sorts, because that’s where I saw Ratcat for the first and, I think, only time. Ratcat were an Australian trio that worked from the guiding principle of ‘let x = the Jesus and Mary Chain’ — no bad thing, but also not entirely surprising at that point. I think only an EP had been released over here before the full album and I’m sure any Australians reading this who remember them can say more; I just remember all of us making the comparisons as well or talking about it beforehand or the like.
They set up and played away and were nice enough. I have this vivid mental image of three Australians dressed all in black with various piles of hair on their head playing some actually sweet little songs to a crowd with a lot of industry people in it, who were mostly blonde. Seems to sum up a lot without trying. Quite why I was in the balcony I’m not entirely sure, if it was even a balcony — I think I just wanted to sit down and watch what was going on while waiting on the main reason I was there.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Swervedriver; as mentioned earlier in the series they’d opened for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin the previous summer, and I already knew they were pretty good. I’d seen that set sitting down as well so this time around it was all about being on the floor of this big studio or warehouse or whatever the heck it was — the more I think about it the more I wonder just what this place was — and getting into it. Again, enough actual fans were there besides our group to warrant some energy, if it wasn’t on the level of a ‘real’ show as would be the case the following night, and unlike the previous time they’d come through the album was out and had rapidly turned into a massive favorite. So this time around I was ready for moments like the elegant progressions on “Deep Seat” and the brawling take-no-prisoners punch of “Son of Mustang Ford” and “Rave Down” and its shifts from steady crunch to blasting down the highway rampage. Very, very few bands — especially not from America — get that sense of being on a highway in the middle of nowhere at top speed just right.
I do also remember them throwing in a few songs I didn’t immediately catch, as I was still collecting the early EPs, but in retrospect I recognized performances of both the calmer “She’s Beside Herself” and what may have ended the set, “Kill the Superheroes,” the band in full instrumental hero-rock mode (for their style) that should have the closing music credits for Vanishing Point or something similar. (Maybe Two-Lane Blacktop instead.) Heck of a show, and I think that’s where I fully tipped over from being someone who enjoyed them a lot, then and now. Some bands just make you a lifer. What made it especially surprising was the fact that their original drummer Graham Bonnar had essentially abandoned them in Canada a few days beforehand, so Danny Ingram from Strange Boutique had just been pressed into service to complete the tour, and did a pretty good job given the strength of the show.
Because of the nature of the whole show somehow there was a lot of hanging around outside as everyone was loading up their gear, and while I ended up meeting the band briefly I talked for a little while with Adi Vines, who it turned out would be the next original member to leave, though only much later in the year. I remember him being a very affable guy, and someone else was with us too — probably one or two members of my bunch of folks, whoever I was exactly with, as well as another band member or two. I remember looking over the tour T-shirts and either I noticed or someone else saw that either a city or a venue name, or both, had been horribly misspelled on the back. Adi looked a bit surprised to learn this and I remember some exchange like this with a passing roadie or road manager.
ADI: “Hey, [name of passing person]!”
OTHER PERSON: “Yeah?”
ADI: “These are all spelled wrong!”
OTHER PERSON (with a ‘what-can-you-do’ tone): “I know.”
Some mistakes you have to live with. (Great shirts in any event, the front of them were nothing but illustrations of guitar pedals, which seemed appropriate then and now.)
So one reason why I’m talking in detail about this promo show is that the actual show itself is kinda lost to me. It might well have been because it was essentially the same set but in a different venue, maybe because it was more people, more of an expected crowd, but I’m not really sure. So that’s one reason why I don’t know if Ratcat opened at the Whisky for them or not — I’m pretty sure they didn’t but if not, I’m completely blank on who did the honors. It might — might — have been the first time I saw the legendary/notorious ‘will open for every shoegaze band that comes through town’ act Super Thirtyone, but that’s a series of stories in and of itself.
Swervedriver did definitely play, of course, and I had a good time at the least — I again distinctly remember “She’s Beside Herself” and am pretty sure they pulled out “Kill the Superheroes” again as well, and I probably remember both of those so well just because of their newness to me still. Hearing a great band two nights in a row — for the price of one, and a cheap price at that — is a good way to spend a mid-February, I’d have to say.
Funny thing as well — that wasn’t the last Swervedriver tour shirt that year to have a bad spelling error on it. But that story will have to wait for later in the series, and a couple more bands on A&M and a much larger venue…