Our favourite band playing our album of the year in full? Of course we were there – well, one of us was able to make it anyway.
I headed to London to see Palm Reader round off an incredible year.
“This album was tough to make,” Palm Reader vocalist Josh McKeown tells a packed Boston Music Room. “It almost didn’t happen. But I’m so glad it got released – thank you for sticking with it, thank you for believing in Braille.”
That bit of heartfelt, genuine appreciation from Palm Reader’s frontman pretty much sums up this band. They’ve put out not only the best album of the year, but a solid gold classic that is right up there with the top releases of the last two decades, and they’re celebrating the fact by playing it in full at a live show that is stacked with a terrific support bill to boot.
In short, we should be the ones thanking Palm Reader. And yet, ever humble and ever modest, here they are thanking us. That’s them in a nutshell.
This glorious evening of celebration had kicked off a few hours earlier with that aforementioned support bill.
Sharkteeth Grinder are first up and grab their opportunity with both hands; the Corby three-piece manage to make far more noise than you’d think possible from bass, drums and vocals, and are a flurry of energy on stage. Combining Every Time I Die-style riffs with a guncrack snare and a frontman who divides his time between the floor, the bar and – briefly – the stage, they’re an absolute riot.
Next is the enigmatic I, the Mapmaker, who deck the stage with fairy lights and succeed in sucking the room into their world, which is more like an immersive storytelling experience that a gnarly gig in a room next to a pub in North London. They build atmosphere and intrigue the same way Defeater have been doing for the last few years, while their singer seems full of pain and regret. Not that I want to quote Kay Burley in a gig review per se, but there is a certain sadness in his eyes.
Completing the support trio is Merseyside five-piece Loathe, who get the room moving with a ferocity you rarely see for support acts. Their combination of down-tuned, djent-esque guitars with eerie electronic backing tracks and multiple servings of bounce and drops are reminiscent of Issues, but without the annoying boyband singer. Loathe’s frontman is far from boyband; he is part party-starter, part circus master and fully fantastic.
And so to the reason we’re all here, Palm Reader and a first-ever live rendition of their stunning latest album Braille in full.
If you’ve listened to our recent interview with the band, you’ll know they were keeping their cards close to their chest when we probed them for details of how this show would work. As it happens, though, it was fairly self-explanatory.
Using the keys-led instrumental ‘Dorothy’ as an intro tape, the band took the stage, got settled and then ripped into album opener ‘Swarm’ with, if possible, even more fury than they’ve been playing it up and down the UK all year.
From there on in – ‘Dorothy’ aside – they rattled through their masterpiece in order, the crushing heavy of ‘Internal Winter’, followed by the ferocious ‘Like A Wave’ and the sombre ‘Inertia’ – complete with guest vocals from Haggard Cat frontman Matt Reynolds – combining to send the room to a soaring, raging high before winding them down to the peaceful ‘Breach’.
The peace doesn’t last long of course; ‘Coalesce’ live sounds huge, as does the stupendous ‘The Turn’, from its soft, brushed drum intro through its majestic bass-led midsection to its gloriously heavy finale. Marvellous.
Eight songs down, two to go. And, it’s the two songs everyone here, band included, are excited about hearing in the live environment for the first time. And, boy, do ‘Clockwork’ and ‘A Lover, A Shadow’ sound special. They are almost a perfect summation of what makes Palm Reader great: intricacies, melodies, layers and sheer weight to leave you feeling exalted and punched in the gut at the same time.
Short of the sheer joy of seeing a room full of people singing along at the top of their voices all night, this closing one-two is the highlight of the evening.
And that, friends, was that. An album for the ages played live and done so brilliantly, complete with perfect lighting throughout for another added bonus. But Palm Reader now have a problem. They have too many good songs. They’d be mad to leave anything off Braille out of a setlist, yet they also have another pair of albums packed full of incredible material. And they have ‘Always Darkest’ too. They’re spoiled for choice.
As everyone filters off into the chilly December night and heads home, there is no doubt that Palm Reader deserve more. They have a collection of world-beating songs and they’ve done more than their fair share of graft and toil through the UK’s toilet circuit. This band’s talent, their material and their ambition should be on bigger stages and should be known and loved by many, many more people.
However, that’s not just going to happen. The music business doesn’t work like that. It would be easy to end this review by pulling out the “if there’s any justice in the world” card and lay out what ought to happen. But this is 2018. There is no fucking justice.
Instead, there’s us. We can’t afford to take Palm Reader for granted. We need to do what we can to get them where they should be. Believe in their songs. Believe in their live show. Believe in Braille.
Believe in Palm Reader.
Photos by Dave Musson.