IoS pop review: Palma Violents, The Dome, Tufnell Park, London
Caravan, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
If this is the band of 2013, take me back to 1973
Sunday 13 January 2013
Anyone waiting for 2013 to hurry up and start happening – in the sense of being divebombed by the unexpected – will have to wait a little longer. The music industry's calendar being the regimented thing that it is, we're still in the open-up-and-say-aaah phase, in which we're spoonfed the same foregone conclusions.
Among this year's chosen ones are Palma Violets (yes, that misspelt name is how they style themselves), a rudimentary guitar group from Lambeth whom I last saw in August, supporting British Sea Power in Brighton. At that time, they were just another hapless indie-schmindie band. Since then, they've rowdied up their act and cranked up the volume. They've also made the BBC Sound of 2013 list and the cover of the NME, so no one is ignoring them any more.
The Dome is as rammed as the band are ramshackle. "The Clash without the politics" would be a five-word first impression. There's smoke and, yes, violet light, but no art or artfulness. What we have here is a tried and tested formula: four vaguely presentable boys playing melodic rock'n'roll with big singalong bits, and playing them loud. Frontmen Sam Fryer and Chilli Jesson do the face-to-face Pete'n'Carl thing, with choruses shouted in out-of-tune unison, while Pete Mayhew's somewhat superfluous garage rock organ tries to make itself heard. With the Libertines reunion apparently having fizzled out, you can see why Rough Trade signed them up. It will probably pay off, too: it's not much of a stretch to imagine Palma Violets becoming Vaccines-sized.
Bassist Jesson is the resident deranged wild man, throwing drinks at the crowd and acting the loose cannon. The songs? They've nothing much to say. The Rihanna-borrowed refrain "You make me feel like I'm the only one" is fairly typical. "This song is about a girl," Fryer tells us at one point, before having a sudden moment of self-awareness. "Another one."
There's a time and a place for Caravan. For many people here tonight, it might have involved reclining on the grass at a free festival on some idyllic summer afternoon circa 1973, spliff in one hand, scrumpy in the other. For me, it was one late night around 10 years ago, seeing off a bottle of Scotch with my dad while he tried, yet again, to musically brainwash me with hippy nonsense.
Unusually, it worked. The album we were listening to was Blind Dog at St Dunstan's, a record with at least one outstanding track. Namely, the nine-minute long "All the Way (with John Wayne's single-handed liberation of Paris)", a piece of warm, blissful space-pop.
Blind Dog was released in 1976, a year in which Caravan, like most of the other old heads on the vaguely charming Canterbury scene, were noodling away in happy ignorance of the world outside, still following their psych-folk-prog path oblivious to glam rock, pub rock, punk and disco. They thought their world would never end.
And, in a sense, it hasn't. Grey of hair, black of attire, the Caravan of 2013 no longer look like the astral voyagers of yesteryear. The founding Sinclair brothers are gone, but lanky lead singer Pye Hastings, violinist and flautist Geoff Richardson and long-serving keyboardist Jan Schelhaas are still on board.
Some of their post-1980 material has an unfortunate Dire Straits feel, but the old stuff, dominated by excerpts from For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night (for which this tour is nominally a 40th anniversary celebration), is frequently impressive. There are tricky rhythms with 5, 7, or 11 beats to the bar (I lose count), false endings which fool the unwary into clapping early, lyrics about trysts on the golf course, and sudden skiffle interludes complete with spoons and washboards. They end with a 20-minute epic called "Nine Feet Underground". They don't, however, find room for "All the Way". Another time, another place.
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