A zombie, a skeleton, a pig and Dash from “The Incredibles” walk into a concert … and crowd and bandmates alike start swimming.
Thus began the ground-shaking performance from SWMRS at the UC Theatre on Oct. 28 as the band ran onstage, each the four members boasting a unique costume for their “Uncool Halloween” concert. “Start swimming!” bellowed lead singer and Daily Cal alumnus Cole Becker as the quartet jumped straight into its first track of the set, “Palm Trees.” The crowd obliged energetically, arms carving out freestyle strokes in the air in time to the song’s opening words.
Saturday night marked the thirteenth of 28 stops for SWMRS on its “North American Co-Headline Tour.” As part of the final tour of the band’s album Drive North (2016), SWMRS used the appearance to resoundingly assert its voice in the punk rock scene through both music and tasteful interludes.
After an invigorating start with “Palm Trees,” “Harry Dean” served up another high-energy number, with bassist and younger brother to Cole Becker, Max Becker, playing while lying down onstage. At the same time, Cole Becker brought his green face paint and googly zombie-eyes to the next level with jerky movements and a half-open mouth reminiscent of the living dead.
Dripping sweat and grinning, the elder Becker opened “Silver Bullet” with a direct appeal to the crowd that delineated the Theatre as a space of open community, as opposed to simply performance. “This is amazing, thank you so much. We don’t need to know how to dance, we just gotta feel it. Right here,” he declared raspily, indicating stiffly toward his heart.
At the same time, the band remained faithful to its Bay Area roots, with Cole Becker describing “Miss Yer Kiss” as a song based on a night he had on Durant Street. The ensuing get-in-your-bones easy tempo and pop rhythm subsequently gained a sense of intimacy, inviting audience-members familiar with Berkeley terrain to relate to the musician.
In preface to “D’You Have a Car?” Becker offered a similar anecdote: “This song is about me finding friends here in the Bay Area, finding a community,” he noted. “And you know what I see right now? Is just one big, fucking community. And that’s beautiful.”
In addition to the high-energy unity fostered by the band’s encouragements of the audience to mosh, sing along and wave iPhone flashlights in the air, SWMRS also artfully built a sense of community during slower songs. The poetic, and at times humorous lyrics, of “Miley” and “Hannah” hit home especially hard as Cole Becker softly crooned the melodies.
Viewers leaned upon one another sleepily, yet still alert to Becker’s every word. The UC Theatre seemed to glow gently, plastic garbage bag ghosts swaying overhead and a stream of Halloween movies playing on mute as the atmospheric music lulled viewers into a collective experience of appreciation for art. It was a moment primed to become a fond memory.
Once again, SWMRS capitalized upon audience engagement with another resoundingly wholesome message. In an interlude speaking to the awareness and emotional maturity of the young group, the musicians publicly praised older generations, both the artists who paved the way for the group to be there, as well as the parents of the viewers: “Let’s give it up for the most important person on the planet: your mom.”
As they began to wrap up the concert, SWMRS graced viewers with a treat: “We made a promise, that if we sold out one of the shows on this tour that we’d do something, and here it is.” The ensuing song, “Lost at 17,” paid gentle tribute to the group’s origins. The Beckers and Joey Armstrong recorded it before forming “SWMRS,” then performing under the title of “Emily’s Army.”
The friends formed this earlier iteration of their current band with the intention of raising money for the Beckers’ cousin, Emily, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. The tender nostalgia of the tune, sung by Max Becker, at once recalled the coming-of-age narratives that began the group’s success, while also illustrating its accomplishments since. The most loyal fans in the audience sang along appreciatively.
SWMRS ended the concert with the album’s namesake, “Drive North.” The choice worked well, the high-energy number ending the set on an energetic note comparable to its beginning. As Cole Becker jumped off the stage and embraced the audience, viewers tripped over one another in an attempt to return the hug. The tenderness Becker exhibited with such gentle motions seemed inconsistent with his angry vocals only minutes before.
Yet, the show’s various interludes and consistent underriding thesis of remaining true to oneself had already asserted the separation of punk rock and gentleness as a false dichotomy. Becker succinctly summed an outrageously successful night up, smiling at the crowd as he spoke his final appeals: “We love you. Always be yourself. Always stay uncool. And always drive north.”
Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].