Live report: ‘68 and Palm Reader – two gigs, one night, zero fucks

When it comes to nightmare scenarios for your common or garden gig-goer, few are as frustrating as two of your favourite bands playing in your city on the same night… but on different bills at different venues.

Just what, exactly, should you do?

Logic would say to pick one and suck it up when it comes to missing the other. Or, if you and a friend are going and, y’know, you happen to run a music reviews website together, you’d pick one each and swap notes after.

Either way, you wouldn’t both try and make it to both shows. Would you?

Well, you might not. We would.

Welcome to Thursday 7th March 2019 and deepest, darkest Digbeth, a five-minute walk from Birmingham city centre. It’s a date that been in the This Decay calendar for months thanks to our favourite duo, ‘68, being added – weirdly – as opener to the Alien Ant Farm and P.O.D. co-headline run.

No, really.

Anyway, we’re no strangers to leaving before headliners play so this early March evening would be nothing new. That was until our favourite band in the world got added to a different Brum show on that very same night.

Yep, Palm Reader got announced as support to Blood Youth. Luckily for us, the two gigs were at venues that were only a short walk from each other, and the two bands we wanted to watch were likely to be on at times that would allow us to enjoy both.

So that’s what we did.

First, to the Institute for ‘68. Now, the downside of this one was that the band we were there to see was on first and on early, so anyone passing by the venue before doors opened and glancing at the queue of people with questionable musical taste might have assumed we had similarly faulty ears.

If ever I wished I’d broken my own gig-going rule and worn some merch of the band I was there to see, it was right there and then. Instead, it was a case of heads down and hope nobody we knew walked past.

There would be plenty to mock about the idea of Alien Ant Farm and P.O.D. touring together in 2019. They weren’t even good when the music they made was culturally relevant.

Yes, the early noughties playlist being blasted over the PA as the crowd filtered in was indeed likely to be comfortably better than the combination of the dual headliners’ sets. And, of course, the idea of someone picking Alien Ant Farm or P.O.D. as their band for all-time is baffling, but each to their own.

But this piece isn’t presented to mock. The fact of the matter is that this hilarious tour has brought with it the rock and roll duo ‘68 as openers and that was a Very Good Thing.

The thing with ‘68 is, well, they’re just bloody great. You will struggle to see a two-piece anywhere else in the world be so captivating, charming and darned entertaining, without losing a shred of credibility or artistic grace.

Frontman/guitarist/everything that isn’t a drummerist Josh Scogin might be better known for his chaotic days as The Chariot’s ringleader-in-chief but he looks nothing short of completely happy doing his thing with ‘68.

His bluesy licks have the kind of swing and groove that you can’t help but tap your feet to. He plays them with an effortless swagger and he creates more volume on his own than some entire bands manage. Even though they’re only played by two people, songs like ‘This Life Is Old, New, Borrowed And Blue’ and ‘Whether Terrified Or Unafraid’ sound monstrously huge.

Having seen this duo on all bar one of their UK tours since they formed, I did realise that I know their on-stage patter almost as well as I know their tunes, but it doesn’t matter – the jokes are still funny, ‘68 are still a joy to watch and, when they start improvising, you realise what brilliant musicians Scogin and drummer Nikko Yamada are. They have no right to be as hilarious and as talented on their instruments as they are.

By the time their set was done and Scogin had climbed from the top of Yamada’s drums, deposited his guitar and then packed away half of the drum kit – all while his final riff of the night looped and Yamada carried on hitting an ever-decreasing amount of drums – they’d acquired a room full of new fans and satisfied us existing ones. Now, let’s have album number three please, chaps.

With that, we took our leave and headed to gig number two.

You might think we’d have had our fill of seeing Palm Reader play live by now. You’d be wrong. After all, when the best band in the world is in town, you go and watch them, right? Unfortunately, between us and our first live helping of Palm Reader in 2019 were two bands at the other end of that scale.

On a night when Alien Ant Farm and P.O.D. are both in town it’s almost impressive to find two worse bands playing elsewhere, so credit to Overthrone and Lotus Eater for that. As for their cliched stage shows and terrible, terrible songs; off to the bin you go.

Thank goodness for Palm Reader though, right? Let’s face it, they’re better than just about everyone else – better than my band, better than your band and better than everyone else on this bill that has brought them in front of us tonight.

To be honest, they felt wasted on this bill. But you’d never have known it from their incendiary 30-minute set. From start to finish, Palm Reader schooled everyone in the room in the art of being an incredible band.

When you drop songs like ‘Always Darkest’, ‘Internal Winter’, ‘Swarm’ and ‘Like A Wave’ into a support set, everyone else on the bill might as well give up and go home, particularly when they were delivered with as much fire and sheer power that Palm Reader delivered here.

Good luck following that.

There are few things as glorious as a fired-up Palm Reader rattling through a set, and for the duration you can’t help but be transfixed and bang your head in approval. The riffs, the pounding drums, the aggressive delivery and the interwoven melodies, it’s a rather tasty mix.

Oh, and then they have the sheer temerity to close their slot with ‘A Lover, A Shadow’, a song whose brilliance cannot ever be fully articulated with words alone, just to triple underline their status as the UK’s best band right now.

Surely, this tour has to be the last time they play second fiddle to someone with more hype; give Palm Reader a headline run, give them at least 45 minutes and let them show everyone what they can do.

With that done we once again took our leave and so brought to an end a bizarre night. Two roses stuck in a cluster of thorns. Thorns covered in bird shit. But when those roses are as wonderful as ‘68 and Palm Reader, it’s worth a few a shitty scratches on the way.

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Dave Musson