SWMRS at Concord Music Hall
Vibrant stage lights, electric guitar riffs and flailing limbs of enthusiastic moshers and crowd-surfers filled the Concord Music Hall on April 19 as fans celebrated the music of SWMRS, Beach Goons and Destroy Boys.
While only a snapshot of the night, these elements are staples at every SWMRS show. The Oakland-based surf-punk band has developed a reputation for their live performances and the community they are able to create for their fans.
“I’ve been listening to them since before they were SWMRS,” said fan Kierra O’Connell while waiting for the show to start. “I love the new album. I had high expectations, but it’s more fun and dance-y than [their debut album] ‘Drive North.’”
From start to finish, “fun” is definitely one of the best ways to describe the night at the Concord Music Hall. Openers Destroy Boys and Beach Goons, also California-based, warmed up the crowd for the main act with fast-paced songs and crowd-diving.
“I’ve been listening to [SWMRS] for about a year and haven’t seen them live before,” said new fan Vanessa Harris. “I’m just happy to hear more music.”
By the time SWMRS moved onto the stage, the crowd was ready to move and sing along, proving their enthusiasm by screaming along to “Steve Got Robbed,” the final song off their sophomore album, “Berkeley’s On Fire,” which was released February 15.
Frontman Cole Becker welcomed the crowd to the event that he dubbed “SWMRS’ rock ‘n’ roll explosion” before launching into their set, a balanced mix of their old and new work.
SWMRS fans show their dedication to the band and their message at every show. Becker was clear in the beginning of the show that the community in the crowd and each person’s safety were the most important things to them, especially concerning sexual assault and helping others.
The band is known for being vocal on political and social issues through their public statements and music. Throughout their hour-long set, Becker spoke out about gun control, toxic masculinity, LGBT issues and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Berkeley’s on Fire” itself features some politically charged tracks. The album’s titular track comments on the necessity of speaking up about current issues and the pressures that accompany that responsibility.
That being said, the album is not purely devoted to that, including songs about young life, having a good time and traditional punk raging.
Songs such as “Lose, Lose, Lose” and “Hellboy” were particularly well-received live. Fast-paced and jumpy, the tracks were perfectly suited for all the makings of a good concert.
Despite receiving mixed reviews — with some arguing that the new album unsuccessfully attempted to stray from the band’s punk roots — that energy did not seem to stifle the Concord performance.
Lesser-loved tracks like “IKEA Date” and “Lonely Ghosts” stayed off the set list. However, “April in Houston” and “Bad Allergies” — two calmer dancer tracks that broke away from the band’s typical style — were proudly included and enjoyed by the crowd.
Branching out stylistically is a difficult task to take on for any ensemble, especially when there is still a pressure to keep fans coming back while bringing in new ones.
“Berkley’s on Fire” is far from standard for SWMRS; the attempt at a more experimental sound demonstrates potential versatility, although it falls flat at parts.
The album pulls from a variety of influences, incorporating indie pop and alt rock sounds with their signature fast-paced punk — a bold choice considering the pigeon-holing nature of the pop-punk genre.
The timidness with which some of the stylistic choices in “Berkeley’s on Fire” were made prevented it from being great. To create a focused and engaging piece in the future, the band will have to fully commit to any creative choices they choose to make. For the time being — while they work to find their true voice and style — they are still able to engage their loyal fanbase.