Swervedriver at The Corner Hotel
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Swervedriver at The Corner Hotel

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The last time I saw Swervedriver you could count the punters in the audience on two hands.

The last time I saw Swervedriver you could count the punters in the audience on two hands. It was in Dunedin – to many, New Zealand’s home of indie rock, given its association with Flying Nun. I remember feeling ashamed that we’d mustered such a shit turn out. The band, however, seemed entirely unaffected by this; they were just blissing out to their own cosmic assault of effects-laden guitar rock. And those of us lucky enough to be present blissed out right along with ’em.

That was in 1998, the year Swervedriver finally ground to a halt and called it quits, right here in Australia. Thirteen years later the Swervies reunion tour that’s been wending its way around the globe since 2008 has finally pulled into Melbourne. Unlike the venue in my ’98 experience, the Corner’s packed to the gunnels. Where last time the Swervies’ set largely comprised songs from the then-recently released 99 th Dream, this time it’s dominated by Raise-era material. Those trademark dreadlocks are gone too of course, replaced by receding hairlines and a certain world-weariness. What hasn’t changed though is the intensity of the Swervies’ performance as they plough straight in with Girl on a Motorbike and Duel.

Sandblasted gets off to a shaky start courtesy of some nervy fumbling by Raise-era drummer Graham Bonnar, who’s sitting in for Jez Hindmarsh on this leg of the tour. But Bonnar redeems himself by nailing the song’s glorious crescendos, each of which provokes a roar of approval from the crowd. Scorching renditions of Pile Up and Sci Flyer follow before the Swervies turn their attention back to Mezcal Head material, pile-driving their way through For Seeking Heat and MM Abduction.

"Thanks for being … just for being," offers frontman Adam Franklin enigmatically before launching into a blistering performance of Last Train to Satansville. It’s slightly marred when a sagging mike stand forces Franklin to abandon his vocals mid-song but the recalcitrant equipment is swiftly repaired and the band doesn’t drop a beat.

Sandblasted B-side Out gets a gurnsey but there’s just one song a piece from Ejector Seat Reservation (The Birds) and 99th Dream (These Times) respectively. Rave Down, Just Sometimes and a towering rendition ofDuress round out the set before the Swervies exit the stage, leaving their audience praying for an encore that includes Son of Mustang Ford. The band return and deliver just that with Deep Seat and Kill the Superheroes following close behind.

Thirteen years is a long time between drinks in anyone’s book but the Swervies’s Corner show more than made up for their extended absence. Here’s hoping we’re not left waiting half as long for their next visit.

ANTON BOUWER