Let’s begin with the last thing I remember: it was 2 in the morning and Palma Violets was raging away in a nondescript building on the University of Texas campus. Before leaving London for this year’s South by Southwest festival, the buzzing Brit-rock four piece made a petition to their fans on Facebook: “we like intimacy, as do you if you got any taste. We wanna play a HOUSE PARTY in Austin.” The folks at Pearl Street Co-op took them up for their unofficial SXSW showcase – near as I can figure, this place falls somewhere between a student activity center and a rock n’ roll frat a la Philly’s Pi Lam – and the result was a gloriously sloppy, riotous rock and roll show.
To dispense with the obvious criticism – these guys are a wreck in concert. They play so loudly their vocal mics get caught up in an awful, unstoppable feedback loop with their amplifiers. They put so much energy into jumping around and dancing in a frenzy that they unwittingly unplug their instruments and topple the various parts of their drum kit. Repeatedly. When drummer Will Doyle hit his crash cymbal so loud that half of his drums disappeared off the riser, all he could do was laugh until his road manager set them back up.
But that’s okay. This band isn’t about that brand of rock that’s precisely performed but deficient in personality. Palma Violets is anti-humdrum, it’s about embracing the energy of their songs and tossing it back and forth with the crowd. Dualing vocalists Sam Fryer (guitar) and Chili Jesson (bass) play off of one another as much as they do with the front row, sharing the microphones with the fans, encouraging participation in a vocal and physical sense. “Is it Wednesday?” asked Jesson. “Is it Thursday? Who cares. It’s the new Friday.” And the crowd pogoed along, mouthing words to just about every song – even the ones they didn’t know. It was a free-for-all, a release, a celebration. This is a feeling that would be absent in a more formal setting, with less instrument breakage and more performance precision. And this is why, sloppy or not, this was the environment to see Palma Violets.
Below, watch 44 seconds of both band and crowd freaking out to their single “Best of Friends.” Check back for more SXSW dispatches through Sunday; this afternoon, we’ll recap the NPR Music showcase at Stubb’s.Palma Violets, sxsw 2013