Palma Violets keyboardist Pete Mayhew is sitting on a couch in the green room of the Echoplex, twirling a bottle of Pepto Bismol. “Oh, hello! Would you like some?” he asks, his hospitality overcoming the stomachache he’s battling. Drummer Will Doyle handles the introductions, but the band’s frontmen, bassist Chilli Jesson and guitarist Sam Fryer, are nowhere to be found. Somehow, all this seems fitting for a meeting with England’s most talked about young guitar band.
Recent NME cover stars Palma Violets may be worth their weight in magazine ink in the UK, drawing ever-increasing crowds and kicking off the summer festival season at Coachella, but they seem more at home in smaller clubs. In their earliest days, they played word-of-mouth shows in their house in South London, first to a handful of people and later to a desperately overcrowded room, declining to document any of it online. They’re DIY basement punks with an underdog charm — Jesson barely considered himself a musician before he was coaxed into playing bass for a band that wrote songs simply because they needed something to play.
“That’s where we come from, so playing our songs at Coachella was surreal,” Mayhew explains. “Quite weird, actually, because we got put on after Alt-J and a few other bands who are much bigger than us.” Fryer and Jesson burst into the room, Styrofoam takeout boxes in hand. The two frontmen could hardly have more disparate presences. Jesson dashes around during shows, perpetually teetering on the edge of a stage dive as he snarls through his rabble-rousing tunes. Fryer, whose voice has been compared to Jim Morrison when he bellows through “Last of the Summer Wine,” is more staid, almost contemplative in quieter moments. Beside them, Doyle thrashes at his drum kit while Mayhew may as well be doing a puzzle behind his keyboard. Together, it works.
Without a band member over the age of 20, Palma Violets and their songwriting on 180 shows plenty of room for growth. Their guitar hooks and simplicity also show vibrant promise, accented by their most understated strength: Mayhew’s hazy organ. The quartet ignited the crowd with “Best of Friends,” the first single from 180, and the album’s standout track. Even the casual foot-tappers at the fringes of the club began to dance, and everyone shouted the song’s soaring chorus, “I wanna be your best friend” (never mind that “I don’t want you to be my girl” is the lyric that follows).
That’s the beauty of a Palma Violets performance. It’s all a bit mindless but full of togetherness and fueled by an enthusiasm that embraces imperfection in the name of a good show. By the end of the encore, Doyle’s drum set is on its side and Mayhew is jumping with fans who have finally given into the urge to leap onstage. Jesson lifts his hands in the air, wiggling all his fingers. He utters something indistinguishable against the sounds of Fryer’s guitar, sometimes pointing to individuals in the crowd — no one can be sure exactly what he’s doing — but for reasons unknown, the entire audience puts its hands up and mirrors him, grinning as widely as he is, blissfully unaware of tomorrow’s to-do list.