On Saturday night, The UC Theatre was transformed into the magical world of Hogwarts, candles hanging from its lofty ceilings and dementors with maws agape floating overhead. Even the notoriously sneaky golden snitch made an appearance, greeted by roars of enthusiasm from those gathered. The golden snitch was Cole Becker, SWMRS lead singer, bouncing off the walls onstage as he led the band’s set for its third annual Uncool Halloween event.
From its conception, the Uncool Halloween event has aimed to bring attention to young Californian musicians in locations other than Southern California. As frontman Becker pointed out, SWMRS created the event to “highlight the personality and texture you get when you live in a place like Berkeley.”
Based in Oakland, SWMRS have certainly done their part to attract the attention of music lovers to the East Bay. But it’s not about prestige — Uncool Halloween is all about bringing people together to enjoy music, cut loose and express themselves.
Throughout the night, SWMRS encouraged an appreciation of Northern California, even if primarily via their own music. The name of their debut LP itself is telling, as is the fact that the band opened with the titular song off the record, “Drive North.” And don’t get them started on Southern California. Not only does “Drive North” implore listeners to do as its title suggests, but it includes such blunt statement as “I hate LA,” as screeched by Becker.
While the highlight of the event was, unsurprisingly, the music, SWMRS also used the performance and their considerable following as a chance to advance messages they deemed timely. This year, Cole Becker focused on many of the same themes as he did last year — namely vague appeals that resonated with the majority of those gathered.
Though Becker certainly demonstrated his ability to wail his heart out in numbers such as “Palm Trees” in true punk-rock fashion, he also maintained a certain softness to the persona he presented onstage. The Becker who audience members saw Saturday night proved his tenderness through appeals to them to love one another and shout-outs to his mother, who made many of the decorations for the event (“She’s the fucking shit. I love my mom.”)
As the band has released only one new song since Drive North in 2016, it drew overwhelmingly from the LP throughout the set. Fans were thankful for the familiar content, singing along with vigor. “Berkeley’s on Fire,” released just this August, elicited an especially strong reaction from the audience, presumably by virtue of its timeliness and direct connection to the East Bay. The song acknowledges fear yet assertively states the presence of hope. Although there is a reference in the song to the Milo Yiannopoulos riots at UC Berkeley in 2017, Becker claimed that the song isn’t political — it’s about “believing people when they tell you they’re in pain.” And despite all the pain and chaos and terror evident in Becker’s pouty, screechy vocals, as he repeated the chorus of “we’ll be all right,” the audience seemed to believe him.
As SWMRS’ main singer, Becker unsurprisingly commanded the stage. Becker brings an uncontested energy to his performances, each leap and roll on the floor carried out with incredible vigor and enthusiasm. Though Becker only advised fans to dance as if nobody was looking at the end of SWMRS’ set, he had been doing so the whole while. Just watching the singer flail and jerk about to the music had a freeing, cathartic effect.
By the end of SWMRS’ set, Becker had ripped off his shirt, leaving him stripped down but no less fired up than before. “Most of you will probably remember this as the night that the shirtless guy told you a bunch of shit you don’t remember,” he joked to the crowd. Considering the fervor of those gathered, it seemed unlikely that this conclusion would come to fruition. And as Becker lowered himself to ground level and stood before the audience, concealed from afar by a flurry of arms reaching out for him, he left the crowd with a sentiment we really must try not to forget.
“You are loved,” he called out, assured. “You are loved.”