Concert Review: SWOLL @ Comet Ping Pong (11/14/19)

SWOLL @ Comet Ping Pong (11/14/19)

SWOLL brought the late-night energy to their record release show at Comet Ping Pong.

After some slight delays and two other acts filling the bill, SWOLL took to the stage at Comet Ping Pong last Thursday night at 11:30pm for their record release show for their sophomore album, Unwound. This late, some crowds might have thinned out or been tired on their feet, but when the lights went down on the back room, the energy sparked. And with that energy, SWOLL played a tight 45-minute set that varied between their two albums, Swoll and Unwound.

The lights dropped when the show started and out walked Matthew Dowling – singer, bassist, and force behind SWOLL – as well as the drummer. They were the only two on stage, with another member working the board from the front-side of the stage. For the duration of the show, they were accompanied by a lighting effects that cast pulsating patterns on the wall behind them, occasionally illuminating their faces like musician demons at work on their dark arts.

They opened with a strong energy that put on display the bass-forward nature of the songs along with Dowling’s falsetto voice. It’s a contrast that works well and they lean into it to great effect, his voice a mournful sound cutting at the fog of the bass and the drums. The electronic beats add propulsion and further atmosphere.

The second song, “Snow,” came from their first album and was one that Dowling claimed they had never played live before. I’m not an expert at naming individual SWOLL songs, so there’s no certainty in naming the next few songs they played, but even without the names, it’s clear and easy to say that these songs fit a style that wouldn’t be far off from an updated version of early, dark Cure; some elements of New Order; and a more modern affinity for dark electronic hisses, tracks, and loops that lay a groundwork for one or two individuals to build song landscapes upon. SWOLL uses the technology not as a crutch, as some might, but as a tool and it allows for the realization of a creative vision. Dowling has a world in mind, populated by characters. The catalog is the world, the songs are the characters.

By time the sixth song rolled around, the crowd heard the first track off the new album, “L4f”, with a dreamy lilt, and that rolled into another song that really leaned into the minimal electro rock elements. The crowd didn’t really dance, didn’t really sway, but also didn’t stand solid, too-cool to show emotion. They seemed a bit more entranced by the music with its hypnotic elements.

From there, they played “Settle up the Road” from SWOLL, and then “Haydee’s” from Unwound. Both were clear crowd pleasers, especially the former, with audience members shouting lyrical references during the song.

Their final song of the night was “Slow”, again from their first album. They prefaced it with thanks all around, for the venue, for the audience, for the other two bands on the ticket: Abdu Ali and Luna Honey. Abdu Ali is based out of Baltimore; Luna Honey out of DC, like SWOLL. The entire night served as a testament to the strong local music scenes in the area. Unique and vibrant bands currently below most radars but working their way up. Each different, each unique, each skilled at their sound. They were three pillars, but with the record release, SWOLL closed the night with unique and infectious minimal electronic rock.

Author: Mathew Harkins

A writer and editor in Washington, DC.

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