The journey from St Anne’s to Cowley is a rather long one but, given how embarrassingly buzzed I am about this gig, it’s a brisk 40 minutes worth walking for. Palma Violets are exciting, fresh, punky and always energetic; they’ve earned themselves a title as one of the best live rock acts around. By the time the double bill of burly support acts finish, I’m a couple of beers down and getting pretty itchy feet. But as the roadies turn on the flashing green, blue and red portable disco lights the band are famous for, it begins.
And it begins with a lot of pushing, crushing, and moshing to “Rattlesnake Highway”. Perfect. I wouldn’t expect anything less from this crowd for this band. It’s clear that their rather devoted fanbase has decided that PV’s mantle as ‘great live band’ needs to be kept intact by matching the group’s onstage antics with wilder ones of their own. But unfortunately, they are not merely matching Chilli and co – they are surpassing them. What happened to the bizarre behaviour and fiery energy the band had before?
Singles like “Step Up For The Cool Cats” and “Best of Friends” are lapped up by the rowdy crowd, but I still definitely don’t feel sticky enough to be watching Palma Violets. New tracks “Gout! Gang! Go!” from the main set and “Scandal” and “Invasion of the Tribbles” from the encore sound like they could be brilliant, but the terrible quality of the speakers turns them into one ball of reverby, overdriven, guitary muck.
And then suddenly I work out the reason why the energy on stage and amongst the audience isn’t clicking, and the reason why I’m feeling so underwhelmed. A good indie rock gig needs three things: Lots of sweat, lots of pushing, and a spontaneous stage dive. These are the materials. However, to get a truly great show, you need a connection with the audience that’s tangible, rough, and physical. Not just two parties who happen to be singing the same thing. And that visceral connection was what this concert was lacking.
What happened to the good old days of Palma Violets, less than a year ago, when they played sweatboxes of 100 people or fewer, no barriers, no limits, but pure, relentless and untamed energy? Spectators crawling or being pulled onstage amidst the smell of greasy hair and beer, with the band and the mad audience absolutely nose to nose. Health and safety, why’d you have to muscle in and put up metal blockades? Publicity, why’d you have to make Palma Violets so big they require a venue that requires safety measures? What the band really need, apart from perhaps a good shower, is to re-establish the bond between audience and artist with a trip back to the grubby little sweat boxes they used to play. Who knows, maybe their second album tour will take place around Oxford’s college bars. We can only hope.