SXSW: British buzz band Palma Violets bring fake IDs, real ruckus on their first trip to Texas

palma-violets

It’s the classic U.K. conundrum: an artist is old enough to drink (and sell records) back in Britain, but when they hit the States, they’ve got to stick to the ginger ale.

So it is for Palma Violets, a garage-rock band whose famously boozy live shows helped make the under-21 lads the toast of London. Those raucous performances earned them an NME cover and a record deal, which led to their stellar debut album 180 — all without them having recorded a demo.

So, how did the band — singer Sam Fryar, bassist Chilli Jesson, keyboardist Peter Mayhew, and drummer Will Doyle — deal with the prospect of spending SXSW sober? The same way American teens have been for years: “We’re using fake IDs,” Doyle told EW last night at Mellow Johnny’s, a Lance Armstrong-owned bike shop where the band played a KEXP live session. “Except for Pete, since he actually is 21. But yeah, we actually got them on our last trip [to America], because there was no way we were going to be in New York for two weeks without drinking.” [Ed note: We do not condone this behavior, kids! And Austin cops, please don’t arrest them.]

Reasonable enough. But alcohol aside, their show last night — the quartet’s first ever in Texas — was a tamer live experience than they’re used to, given the early-evening time and yuppie-ish location. The sound was unusually good (you can listen to much of it yourself over at KEXP), though, and the boys did get to cut loose at certain points of their set.

After opening with just-like-the-album versions of “Johnny Bagga’ Donuts” and “Rattlesnake Highway,” the group decided to go rogue on “Tom the Drum.” The song began as a psych-tinged Stooges number but ended as a thrashing, instrument-punishing Sonic Youth-style freakout.

That did a pretty good job of amping up the crowd, but it was “Best of Friends” — the lead single that NME called the best song of the 2012 — that whipped people into a frenzy. And since they had everyone’s attention at that point, Jesson figured it was as good a time as any to ask a question.

“Is everyone excited to see Nick Cave tonight?” he asked the audience, referring to Cave’s nearby showcase at Stubb’s. “‘Cause we are. Let’s all go together!”

But first, the band treated the room to a few more cuts off their debut, including the excellent “The Last of the Summer Wine.” At one point, Fryar instructed everyone to put their hands in the air and wriggle their fingers, as though he were leading an evangelical church prayer. Everyone obliged and put their jazz hands up.

The set was short but sweet, and afterward, the guys booked it. “We weren’t kidding about the Nick Cave thing,” Doyle said to me after the band’s set. And with that, the Palma Violets were on their way out, fake IDs and all.

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