Palma Violets sound a little bit like Bowie doing his best Sid Vicious impression; it’s Garage Rock on peyote. The light organ play in the background, the overuse of the bass drum, the borderline manic guitar, it all works; even the happy shakers on their track ‘Set Up for the Cool Cats’ sound more like a social commentary then some motif they learned from Fleetwood Mac.
Admittedly I did not know who they were when they came on the stage. The Grove Festival was advertised as a ‘Boutique Festival,’ so I expected to see a few bands with street cred that weren’t booked to play Lolla. I gotta say though, these guys were so incredibly refreshing that I literally watched the whole thing with a sort of gapping crooked smile on my face, the kind you get when you see something ridiculous that’s impressive at the same time. And by refreshing I mean the lead singer, Samuel Fryer, worked the stage like some drunken nephew who escaped the family luncheon, stole a guitar, busted through security onto the stage, and proceeded to rock his face off to everyone’s delight. Think Michael J. Fox’s guitar rip in Back to the Future but instead of clean cut ‘80’s, it’s Edward Furlong two days into a binge, sweating twice as much, with all the on-stage presence of Shannon Hoon at his best. Simply said, they were incredible.
Twenty years ago the music industry started making anti-corporate statements that took the form of artists dressing like our grandparents. Reused clothing, greasy hair, vintage, vintage, vintage, anything that could be deemed anti-establishment was considered the height of political awareness; everyone knows Kurt Cobain’s iconic wool cardigans. I saw this I-don’t-give-a-sh*t-what-you-think attitude in Palma Violets, and for the first couple of tracks, I think the audience saw it too and didn’t know quite what to do with it. It’s hard for people to get into a set that they feel isn’t played for them, which arguably it wasn’t. The boys have this way of playing that makes you wonder if they think they’re still in their parent’s garage. After two tracks though, it would have been hard for anyone to argue their ability to rock, their talent, and how cool Fryer looked smoking on stage. By the time they played ‘Best of Friends’ the entire park was looking for a justifiable reason to break the cool-factor-scorpion-dance that both sides were participating in and just tell the band they loved them, but it’s hard when you think the people receiving the compliment don’t give a f*ck. Enter the lyrics of the song that received the first raised hands of the day: I want to be your best friend, and I want you to be mine too, I want to be your best friend, and I want you to be mine!!! The repetitive chorus gave the audience a chance to sing along finally, and connect. Fryer let his cigarette hang out of his face as he clapped his hands over his head. There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? No everyone’s friends.
I would like to take this time to give a shout-out/ extend my own hand of friendship to William Doyle, who is BY FAR one of the greatest drummers I have ever seen live. I kept screaming, “Look at the f*cking drummer!!! Look at him go!! Are you seeing this?!?! Good Lord!! Just look at him!!” You can hear the dynamicism on their recorded tracks as well, but I’m telling you, this drummer is the tits. The whole band it awesome, fine. But Doyle, in the litter that is the drummer pool, you are a special kitten.
Palma Violets was by far the greatest surprise of the day. Huge sound and their sweaty Hobart Salesmen work shirts brought me right back to the beautifully unwashed boys of early grunge. These hard rocking boys from London know how to make an audience feel like they don’t give a sh*t you’re there….but you’ll be glad you were. Rest assured I’ll be chasing them again.