SHOW REVIEW: Palma Violets turned loose in Brooklyn

Hype is a strange, ephemeral beast.  While it doesn’t come without its negative connotations – that that which is hyped is undeserving of such interest, for one – there are very few independent bands who can make much of  a name for themselves these days without at least a little bit of it.  When pressed to define what constitutes hype, what is a ‘good’ level of hype for one’s project to have, or where hype comes from, it’s a bit tricky to nail down.  We’ve long heard terms like ‘the next big thing’ being fastened to all manner of artists, some that go nowhere, others that reach the level of success predicted, and still others that become popular only to self-destruct.

In the case of UK punks Palma Violets, it’s impossible to know how far they will go and what will become of them, seeing as how they’ve not yet released more that a single.  No one can predict the future, after all.  But it’s certainly interesting to note their trajectory as a virtually unknown band that grew a great reputation on the strength of their live performances, then blew up overnight when NME named “Best of Friends” single of the year for 2012.

That sort of occurrence is pretty much the definition of hype and a perfect example of what it can mean to bands with burgeoning careers.  Palma Violets have signed to Rough Trade and will release their debut LP, 180, on February 25th.  And because the band clearly needs to generate yet more buzz, they crossed the pond for a handful of Brooklyn appearances, including a loft party, an appearance at DIY venue Shea Stadium, two dates at Glasslands and a BrooklynVegan-sponsored early show at Piano’s announced just hours before it took place.

Chilli Jesson & Sam Fryer: happy, shiny punks
Chilli Jesson and Sam Fryer: happy, shiny punks

After seeing their final show in Brooklyn last Monday, it’s a wonder that had the energy to do this.  Sam Fryer and Chilli Jesson are known for exhibiting an animated camaraderie on stage, each reacting to the others’ movements, playing guitar and bass while facing one another, singing in call in response or shouting in unison.  Their pep is absolutely contagious – they look as though they’re having the time of their lives and are just trying to provide fun for audiences in leading by example.  Their effervescent merch guy served as hype-man by introducing the rockers, reminding everyone that it’s rare to get second chances (though if he’s referring to a chance to see Palma Violets in action, this was really more like the fifth chance).  He would appear again bouncing through the audience and heckling the band during the brief interlude between the proper set and the one-song encore in his cheeky British accent.  When it came to stage banter from the boys, Chilli Jesson did most of the talking, at one point professing a deep, deep love for the whole of Brooklyn before diving offstage (later he would express this sentiment again before pulling several members of the audience, myself included, onstage for the final number and some very bouncy dancing).  Comparatively speaking, Pete Mayhew seemed stoic behind his keyboard while Will Doyle’s assured, kinetic drumming provided an anchor to the more extroverted antics of the two singers.

But Palma Violets are not the first of their ilk to provide a spirited stage show.  It’s not just their youthful vivacity that’s so intriguing, but the quality of each of their songs that makes the band unforgettable in a sea of snarling garage bands.  Each song is fully formed and well executed; moreover each sounds detectably different from the last, a pitfall that many folks playing music in this genre can’t seem to avoid.  They also seem like nice guys – gentlemen, even… albeit party-ready gentlemen who love to have a good time, to which their flashy rainbow-colored stage lights can attest.

This is about as close as I wanted to get to Devin.
This is about as close as I wanted to get to Devin.

Absent is the brattiness exuded by bands like openers Devin, whose baffling choice of a supposed Ike & Tina Turner cover described a thirteen year-old girl forced into a threesome after being molested by an uncle.  That was just one misstep in a set plagued by them.  Folks in the audience didn’t really seem to mind the (almost) impressive range of the the lead-singer’s squeals, yelps, shouts, and screeches, but the general nasal quality to his tone and snotty delivery turned me completely off – not to mention the  immature content of the band’s original lyrics, which included praise for a girl who “looks like she’s starvin’ to death”.

Palma Violets, though, are a punk rock band apt to provide discerning audiences a more fulfilling experience than what they might otherwise see.  Their eagerness to do so is no doubt the biggest driving force behind their becoming darlings of the scene.  They will, of course, be returning stateside for SXSW and are likely to play a handful of dates elsewhere.  With performances not to be missed and near-complete certainty that 180 will pack as much punch as their live set, it’s lucky for us that the hype in this case is well-deserved.

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