On Wednesday, December 13, a friend and I made the four hour drive from Cincinnati, OH, to Cleveland, OH, to see SWMRS on one of the last dates of the Farewell Drive North Tour. After two years of touring, the band was wrapping up a stream of hundreds of dates in support of their debut album, Drive North. This was my first time seeing SWMRS live, as well as their co-headliner, The Interrupters and the opening act, The Regrettes.
At 6:30 p.m., attendees began to file into The Agora Ballroom, gathering around the stage. After waiting for a couple of hours in Ohio’s notorious December weather, my friend and I managed to snag places right in front of the stage. As The Regrettes took the stage around 7:30, the crowd cheered, ready for the show to start. I am ashamed to say that I had only listened to a few of the LA-based band’s upbeat-rock tunes prior to the show, but was instantly thrilled by their performance—I hope to see them again in the future. The Interrupters followed shortly after, presenting an electric combination of punk and ska that had the pit thriving throughout their entire set. While the younger crowd seemed to be mostly there for SWMRS and The Regrettes, everyone was dancing and singing along to powerful songs like, “A Friend Like Me,” whether they knew the words or not.
Finally, as SWMRS—Joey Armstrong (drums), Sebastian Mueller (bass), Max Becker (guitar/vocals), and Cole Becker (vocals/guitar)—took the stage, the screams of fans seemed to double, and the energy in the room, which was already high, seemed to skyrocket. Cole Becker yelled “Cleveland, start swimming!” into the mic, sending everyone moving. Starting off with crowd favorite, “Palm Trees,” SWMRS quickly had the audience singing along and thrashing together in the pit. Next came “BRB,” lead by Max Becker on vocals. Something that I love about SWMRS is how easily Cole and Max Becker switch off lead vocals and lead guitar duties—while Cole is still more obviously the frontman, with his inspiring speeches and centered mic, it makes their live show more balanced than any other band’s that I have seen.
“BRB,” was quickly followed by “Harry Dean,” “Silver Bullet,” and “Miss Yer Kiss.” A small hiccup came up during the show as some concert-goers had a bit of a rift over the amount of crowd surfing going on throughout the show, leading the band to ban the act for the rest of the night. The momentum quickly picked back up as Cole gave a speech specifically directed to young people, his age (22) and below, about the importance of paving a better future, especially amidst our current political/societal climate. He finished by urging the audience to be proud of who they are, “whether that’s cool or not,” before diving into my personal favorite, “Uncool.”
The audience sang along to “Miley,” jumping whenever Max yelled to jump, and danced to “D’You Have a Car?” The crowd did the “wall of unity,” (typically known as the wall of death), as instructed by Cole, as a sign of unifying as a community, and everyone waved their cellphone lights and lighters, as Max crooned the lyrics to “Lose It.”
At one point, while it wasn’t an official line on the setlist, the band had everyone yelling the chorus to FIDLAR’s “Cheap Beer,” to further exemplify how we’re all connected (because who in their teens and twenties doesn’t drink cheap beer?), but they played a full cover as well. SWMRS’ cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” kept the soul of the song, while making it grittier and more their own. It’s a song that everyone born after 1977 knows and loves, so, of course, it had the audience singing and dancing. SWMRS followed the 70s classic with “Turn Up” and “Figuring It Out”— the latter a song about being young and confused, something that probably 99 percent of their fans can relate to.
There was not an encore, simply a longer setlist—a practice more bands seem to be adopting. SWMRS ended with the namesake of their debut album, “Drive North,” sighting the importance of being proud of where you’re from—most of us are so hung up on wanting to move somewhere else that we miss out on what is amazing about where we are at.
As the house lights went up, the crowd quickly dispersed, some audience members heading to the merch table or the exit, others lining up to meet Cole near the stage. The Drive North era was over in Cleveland, and would soon be entirely over as the tour came to an end. Even though I have only been a fan for a few months, it was still somber and bittersweet to witness the end of an era, but I am excited to see what SWMRS cooks up in 2018.
By: Casey Nalley / @nalleycasey