Visceral, Unhinged, And Stuart Pearce
So Adrian (flatmate), Frank (friend), and I are standing there, Stellas in hand, at the back of the black light loving Hitchin hotspot Club 85 waiting for London four piece Palma Violets to take the stage when in walks retired footballer Stuart Pearce! Screw the sycophantic Radio 1 mouthpiece Zane Lowe, the presence of the former England and Nottingham Forest star and renowned punk is a much bigger endorsement for the young hellraisers from Lambeth. I mean, the man loves a gig so much that in 1979 he ended up on the back cover of infamous punk band The Lurkers’ second album God’s Lonely Men among the sweaty denizens of one their shows. I’ve heard that the Palma Violets live show is something similarly intense and a thing to behold.
First, there’s the small matter of support bands to deal with. The Ming City Rockers hail from “a place so bad they put it next to Grimsby”. Punk hair metal. Lots of snotty attitude, three chord songs, a uniform of shirts, ties, and jackets and more than a dash of tongue in cheek Spinal Tap humour. Bassist Jakki Walsh ventures into the crowd to drink people’s beers during the last song, singer Clancey Jones kind of looks like Johnny Borell after a week long bender, and lead guitarist Morley Adams looks suitably disinterested for the duration of the gig. It’s a good laugh, played ably and with enthusiasm, but not much more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Live, the London based indie/shoegaze/pop boys Childhood are a completely different and more forceful proposition than that presented on their debut album Lacuna. Their noise rock and shoegaze credentials are turned up about five notches. Songs like “You Could Be Different”, “Pay For Cool” and “Blue Velvet” are imbued with a level of delay, echo, and fuzz that is relatively non-existent on the record which favours a focus on their retro and trippy Madchester sound.
“As I Am”, with it’s simple chord progression and sweet, floating melody, is a delicate delight and the band seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as singer/guitarist Ben Romans Hopcraft periodically swings his guitar above his head and passionately sings as if his life depended on it. Personally, I prefer the hard rocking live Childhood than the more sedate album version. We can all live in hope that this is the direction they will embrace when it comes time for them to record their sophomore effort.
I found Palma Violets‘ debut album 180 to be a disappointment. Prior to the gig, Adrian described them as: “Four hip looking guys straight out of the indie catalogue playing semi melodic guitar songs with semi audible lyrics”. Hardly a ringing endorsement. Live, everything is completely different. In their natural setting they are a visceral, unhinged beast of a band.
Bassist and singer Alexander ‘Chilli’ Jensen attacks his instrument like it’s done him a great offence, eyeballs the crowd with good natured menace, and howls his lyrics like an animal that needs to be put out of it’s misery. Samuel Fryer, singer and guitarist, stands to Jensen’s left. Or more like teeters. It seems that at any point his desire to lean into the crowd to scream the lyrics into the adoring crowd member’s faces will lead to him taking a nasty spill head first off the stage. Fortunately, this never comes to pass and together Chilli and Sam create a formidable cacophonous whirlwind of a two headed frontman alá The Libertines.
The songs, which seemed ordinary, muddy, and limp on the record, are given a new lease of life live. “Step Up For The Cool Cats” simple organ, drumbeat, and soaring vocal melody are played with the enthusiasm and gusto required to make sure the song is a success. The single “Best of Friends” takes it’s place rightfully as the band’s signature song, with Jensen and Fryer exclaiming gleefully together during the singalong chorus: “I wanna be your best friend, I don’t to be your girl”. All the while the crowd sings every single word back at the quartet with the kind of passion usually reserved for calling referees wankers.
It’s not just the big, singalong songs that benefit from the live setting. “14”, an ode to the night bus that has often taken Fryers home, becomes a bit of an everyman anthem as the entire crowd joins in on the communal experience of drunkenly attempting to get home in all hours of the night. While “All The Garden Birds” simple melody and opportunities for crowd interaction creates an intimacy made possible by the songs directness.
“Chicken Dippers” benefits most from the live setting, as the contrast in the raucous chorus, which is only hinted at on the album, is emphasised. The band go from a regal stomp to blast into spitfire quick and brief guitar solo sections like some kind of schizophrenic four headed monster. The crowd love it.
Speaking of the crowd, it’s clear they would care little for my critique of Palma Violet’s debut album. Throughout the gig they treat the band like shambolic heroes. The crowd surfing and general tomfoolery culminates in a stage invasion towards the end of the gig, Morrissey style. Palma Violets’ live show is raucous, unhinged, and psycho, no wonder Stuart Pearce loves it. If they can harness this energy when recording album number two they could craft an album that does justice to their potential.