There appears to be a new surge in British indie rock bands hitting the scene, but which one will break through to carry the torch and lead the way has been a heated debate. If you buy into the hype created by the UK press, then next in line to the country’s music throne is the South London quartet Palma Violets.
The indie punk/garage rockers from the Lambeth district of London wrapped up the second leg of its U.S. tour, playing its second-to-last show in the States at The El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. And perhaps as a nod of appreciation for its time spent in the Golden State, the young lads opened the show with a punked-up cover of the Joe Jones’ classic surf song “California Sun.”
Whether intended or not, the song served as more than just a tribute, but also as an example of the band’s range and diversity. There is no real one sound of Palma Violets, but rather a mix of many from eras past. And there are many. From the organ play on songs like “Step Up for the Cool Cats” to the vocals on songs like “Best of Friends,” “Tom the Drum” and “Rattlesnake Highway,” it’s easy to pick up the influences from bands like The Doors, The Ramones, The Strokes and The Clash, to name a few.
And like many of the aforementioned bands, it’s the live performances that set Palma Violets apart from the pack. Prior to their meteoric rise, Palma Violets was a band without a label—and an album—but quickly gained recognition from fan videos posted online. The most notable were from their early gigs at Studio 180 in their hometown. It’s from this studio space that the guys took the name for their debut album, 180.
Now, with an album under its belt, signed to a label and touring the world, Palma Violets has not lost that raw, youthful energy displayed in the early days of the band. Despite a half-full house, Palma Violets was able to create an intimate atmosphere and engage the crowd, almost as if they were playing in one’s living room. Every member of the band lets it all out and treats the stage like their playground to do whatever it likes. There are no rules when it comes to Palma Violets, in its music and on stage.
Bassist Alexander “Chilli” Jesson, who also shares vocals with guitarist Sam Fryer, seemed to personify the rebellious attitude most. Whether it is showering the crowd with water, kicking the drum kit or lighting up a smoke on stage, Jesson does not hold back. For his part, Fryer showed off his shredding skills on guitar, using his teeth in lieu of his hands at one point.
The crew picked up the tempo with each song, hitting a crescendo midway through the set by smartly sandwiching in the band’s most popular tunes, “Chicken Dipper,” “Best of Friends” and “Step Up for the Cool Cats” to send fans in a tizzy. By this point, the moshing intensified, bodies were hopping, dancing filled the aisles and the smell of sweat permeated the air. It had all the makings for a small club, not a larger venue.
While officially the band is a four-piece, they have two honorary members that are very much part of the band and performance. Joining the band on stage at one point to play maracas was tour manager Doug Marvin, who looked like a cross between Panama Jack and Hunter S. Thompson with his shades and the straw hat stolen off the head of keyboardist Peter Mayhew.
The second unofficial member of the band is school friend and “merch guy” Harry “Violent” Jones, who serves as hype man before the show to get the crowd pumped; introduces the band as it takes the stage and joins them to add supporting screeches during its encore cover of Canadian punk band Hot Nasties’ “Invasion of the Tribbles.”
While one album does make a band, the early success of Palma Violets and support of established musicians like The Smith’s Johnny Marr and Nick Cave bolds well for the band’s future. Live, the band personifies everything punk: raw, rough and able to cause a raucous. But the pop side of their music makes it more accessible to the masses, allowing fans to sing along to the chorus.
In a recent interview, drummer Will Doyle indicated that the band was already thinking ahead to its second album, and pulling inspiration from an unlikely source: The Grateful Dead. With its short, sharp and catchy tunes, the band was looking for ways to extend their songs and jam a bit more on stage. To do so, the foursome started watching videos of Jerry Garcia to study how the master of jams makes a 3-minute song 12-minutes long.
It should be interesting to see and hear how this influence will affect the band’s live performances, as well as songs on its next album. But for a band that breaks the rules, one should expect the unexpected. Let’s just hope that doesn’t mean the addition of drums/space to their shows.
Photos by Scott Sheff