Palma Violets’ bruising performance Tuesday secured their place as one of the best live acts in the world.
By Adam Ellsworth
During “Matador,” a moody song from Palma Violets’ new album Danger in the Club, singer/guitarist Sam Fryer intones on multiple occasions, “All I felt was pain.” Pain is a recurring theme on the record. It comes in the form of shame on the quiet “No Money Honey,” and as a wish that the singer would rather die than be in love on the melodic “Coming Over to My Place.” In a more lighthearted way, agony also appears during the shuffling “Walking Home,” which finds bassist Chilli Jesson sing “There’s nothing for me anymore/I’m walking home/My baby’s got a new man/I’m walking home.”
This is not to suggest that the album is “about” pain, at least not any more than any other piece of art is, but there’s more suffering here than on the group’s 2013 debut 180. The amount of ache aside, a more obvious difference between Danger in the Club and 180 is that the band has considerably expanded their sonic palette. “The Jacket Song” is a waltz, “Secrets of America” sounds like a Parklife-era Blur track covered by the Libertines, and “Peter and the Gun” features spooky music and disturbing lyrics. As far as the above mentioned “pain” songs go, none of them could be categorized as the blistering rock Palma Violets are best known for.
Of course, the album does boast gale force tunes as well. “Hollywood (I Got It),” “Girl, You Couldn’t Do Much Better on the Beach,” and “Gout! Gang! Go!” are all punk-inspired blasts, while lead singles “Danger in the Club” and “English Tongue” take this tried-and-true sound and add just the right amount of radio-friendliness.
Not surprisingly, the more familiar rock sound is what was on full display last Tuesday night at Great Scott during the band’s too short 45 minute set. By focusing on its singles, the group left out much of the torment and expanded musical horizons found in its latest album. By necessity, the setlist had to draw more from 180. That’s meant as an observation rather than a complaint, but it does make you wonder if Palma Violets are maturing faster in the studio than they are on the stage. No matter. Their bruising performance Tuesday secured their place as one of the best live acts in the world.
180’s “Rattlesnake Highway” and “Tom the Drum” opened the show and were (somehow) even more turbocharged than usual. As Fryer and Jesson flew around the stage and drummer Will Doyle and keyboardist Pete Mayhew held everything together, the band’s merchandiser/hype-man Harry Violent assumed his role as the Pied Piper of the slam-dancing pit and fired up the sellout crowd. By the third song, “Girl, You Couldn’t Do Much Better on the Beach,” the floor of Great Scott was literally bouncing beneath the feet of the audience.
Following a crowd singalong to “English Tongue” and a performance of the 180 standout “We Found Love,” “Matador” made an appearance. It was the first, and pretty much only, time during the night that there was a letup to the slam dancing. Still, during the tune’s instrumental breakdowns, which were harder and faster Tuesday night than in their recorded form, members of the crowd managed to find reasons to bash into each other a few times. Divorced from the rest of Danger in the Club, “Matador” didn’t pack quite the same emotional punch, but it proved the band’s live show has more than one gear and that they aren’t afraid to air some pain in public.
Lest things get too emotionally heavy, the group next played (to the delight of the audience) their breakout hit “Best of Friends” and followed it with their second single “Step Up for the Cool Cats.” The relaxed “Walking Home” came next, before the show went racing down the homestretch with takes of “Johnny Bagga’ Donuts,” “Danger in the Club,” and “14,” the latter nicely bookended by a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Death Is Not the End.” At the very close of the night, Harry was called from the floor to the stage to take vocals on a cover of the Hot Nasties’ classic “Invasion of the Tribbles.”
It was all over too soon, though it’s hard to see how they could have kept up such a ferocious pace. As the band’s sets get longer, perhaps a few more of the newer — and more emotionally diverse — songs will be slipped in to balance things out. That’s certainly something to look forward to, but in the meantime, nobody makes a racket like Palma Violets.
Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on the websites YNE Magazine, KevChino.com, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has a MS in Journalism from Boston University and a BA in Literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.