There was a nip in the air as I walked across Shepherds Bush Green tonight. We might be knocking on the door of summer, but momentarily talk of global warming has been suspended. This morning, I was back scraping the windscreen of the car and had icicles on my Ricicles. The green was, however, positively balmy compared to the chilled-out vibe going on at my destination, the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and an appointment with London four-piece Palace.
Palace are described in their Apple Music bio as “an alternative blues-rock group with an extremely laid-back style”. Anybody speculatively attending one of their gigs based on that would do well to focus on the latter rather than the former. It certainly is laid-back but they’ll be more likely to crowd surf than hear a twelve-bar or verse starting “I woke up this morning…”. Their EP, Chase The Light, was championed by Jamie T and caught the attention of Radio 1, and the debut album released last November, So Long Forever received positive reviews across the board. This is a band we might all be talking about sometime soon.
Sonically, Palace hover in vaguely the same part of the Venn Diagram occupied by Radiohead and Coldplay, though the most oft-used and apt comparison based on the vocal stylings of frontman Leo Wyndham is that of Jeff Buckley. If you’re going to be compared to anybody, that’s a pretty fine place to start. The voice is an instrument and Wyndham certainly knows how to play it. On songs such as set opener Head Above The Water, he rises and falls faster than the average Alton Towers rollercoaster.
The stage is a perfect metaphor for the music. There is no unnecessary clutter and the band are spread wide – every member has room to breathe. The twin leads of Wyndham and stage right guitarist Rupert Turner form the basis of the sound. There are seemingly more layers of reverb than the Empire has balconies.
In a song like Ocean Deep, they are sparse; beautiful. In Have Faith, they are wrapped around each other like an over enthusiastic Clematis taking charge of a lesser shrub. In Veins, Turner cracked open the slide and we all wallowed in a delicious five-minute chill. If it had got any more mellow, we’d have assumed the horizontal.
After a few songs, I retired to the first-floor balcony to snap some more pictures. There’s probably nowhere better in London from which to watch live music than this. The overhang at the sides is so ludicrous you can practically touch the stage whilst still surveying the crowd on the floor. The mosh pit police could have enjoyed a night off but it wasn’t an entirely static affair. Songs such as Live Well and Break The Silence engineered a swirl below us. Meanwhile, some bouncing around on the balcony brought on a disconcerting trampolining sensation that the level one balcony at the Shepherds Bush Empire delivers in spades.
The band closed with It’s Over and Bitter, two songs about deeply sad relationship breakdowns. It might not have been the jolliest means of sending people on their way but based on the reactions and conversations as we headed for the door, nobody seemed to mind.
Palace are definitely carving an individual spot in the musical landscape, and in an indie-alternative rock scene littered with bands all trying to sound like Catfish and the Bottlemen, that is refreshing indeed. It brings them a wide demographic too. Whilst the barrier had a familiar crush of teenage ladies, the balcony could have been occupied by their parents.
The upper tiers of this majestic venue were unoccupied and truth be told, the Empire might be slightly big for the band at this stage of the trajectory (last night, they were at Guildford’s excellent Boileroom – capacity 300). As they continue towards the apogee however, you sense this state of affairs is unlikely to be long-lasting.
Review & Photography by Simon Reed. Palace at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire on 27th April 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk