LIVE: Palm Reader @ The Garage, London

By Dave Stewart

Palm Reader are a special band for so many reasons but their performance of critically acclaimed album ‘Sleepless’ at The Garage in London made one of those reasons so much clearer. To really understand why, I’ve got to do a little scene painting for you, so clear your mind and sit back…

Pretend, just for a moment, that you’re in Palm Reader. You’ve released what is arguably the best album of your career, and you’ve booked some album release shows almost a year before they actually happen. Imagine the anticipation building over time, the excitement for what’s coming growing with every passing day as you eagerly await the release that only a live show can provide. Fast-forward to being on the road on show day, adrenaline coursing through your veins and grinning ear to ear, to pull up to the venue and discover that your van was broken into at a service station. Every band’s worst nightmare, thrusting itself into your reality.

So you’re in a different city, you’ve got a show you’ve been waiting what feels like a lifetime for, literally hours away, but some of the gear that’s integral to your rig has been stolen. What do you do? Well, if you remember, you’re in Palm Reader – you make some phone calls, call in some favours, let your fanbase know what’s happened and do everything that you possibly can to make sure that the show goes on. And it does go on because you’re Palm Reader, and the love you have for the music you make and the people that support you is so strong that it’s difficult to put into words. You can bring yourself back to reality now, by the way. The picture has been painted, and it’s gig time.

Everyone gazes silently forwards until the moment the band take to the stage, playing the opening notes of the huge ‘Hold/Release’, causing the room to burst into appreciative action. From the mellow verses to the elating choruses and that gut-wrenching middle section, front man Josh McKeown screams and skulks across the stage, leading both his bandmates and everyone watching into a much needed cathartic release. ‘Stay Down’ offers up a heavier slice of the same – the pit-hungry onlookers getting a prime opportunity to scratch the itch and cause some chaos to the perilous sounds of guitarists Andy Gillan, Sam Rondeau-Smith and bassist Josh Redrup’s triple attack. Two songs in and, even from the very back of the room, you can feel the temperature rising – Palm Reader have arrived, and they are making every second count.

The dreamy ‘Ending Cycle’ sounds incredible, as does the heartbreaking ‘Willow’, but as soon as ‘A Bird And Its Feathers’ begins, a whole new atmosphere blankets the crowd. The passionate croon of McKeown washes over the room in an almost hypnotic fashion, slowly but surely turning up the intensity as it creeps towards the devastating finale that sees both band and crowd thrash in unison. This dramatic finale is perfectly bookended by the luscious instrumental ‘Islay’, which causes the crowd to erupt into cheer upon learning that Rondeau-Smith’s newborn baby shares the same name; a heart-warming moment of serenity just ahead of diving back into the fray.

The delicate stylings of ‘False Thirst’ eases the crowd back into the swing of things nicely ahead of ‘Brink’, the pounding pace, thunderous guitars and dark undertones of which rattle through the floor and force the room into a collective head-bang. Then, the surge of energy produced by the double hit of ‘A Love That Tethers’ into ‘Both Ends Of The Rope’ closes out the album performance in the perfect way, summoning a tidal wave of emotion that crashes into the crowd who let it completely sweep them away. The room is at both its loudest and quietest for these two songs, allowing the music to guide them through the motions in the exact way that the record intended. We already knew that ‘Sleepless’ was a special album, but this show has somehow managed to strengthen its power.

Palm Reader have done what they came to do, but they aren’t finished by a long shot. They treat the venue to a couple of golden oldies from their back catalogue like the monolithic ‘Internal Winter’ and the frantic ‘Swarm’, but the glistening gem here is the menacing ‘I Watch The Fire Chase My Tongue’. As soon as drummer Dan Olds starts beating his snare drum people charge to the front of the room, the pit being stretched to its limit ahead of the aural barrage that will follow. From the furious attack of the guitars to the deafening chants of, “That was the funeral of all our beliefs”, it grabs everyone by the throat, making it incredibly clear that they’re deserving of your attention. That’s what this entire evening proves, really; this is a band that deserves so much more.

There’s something about this that has felt different to every other Palm Reader show we’ve seen, and believe us when we say that we’ve seen a LOT. It’s like there’s a force in the room being transmitted from the stage, and it’s so addictive that you just can’t take your eyes off of it; like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, but in musical form. The band have perfectly executed a really delicate balance between pure feral aggression and endearing vulnerability that has made this set more captivating than ever before. Listening to ‘Sleepless’ makes you feel those things, sure, but physically seeing the band feel those things too creates an unbreakable connection with the crowd that has every single person in awe.

Post-set it’s chaos around the merch table as folks flood towards it to grab something that could give a shred of financial support to the band after the robbery. Some even approach the band themselves and just put money, and in some cases some actual gear, directly into their hands. The band are visibly overwhelmed by the support, but they deserve all of it. ‘Sleepless’ helped so many people through some of the darkest moments of the last year, this writer included, and gave us the light at the end of the tunnel that we’d been wishing for. Their fanbase feels like a community, and communities support each other. It’s our turn to give something back.

This show has undoubtedly cements Palm Reader as one of the most important bands in the UK’s underground, and if they continue on this trajectory they aren’t going to stay in the underground for much longer. A phenomenal evening from a phenomenal band who, with everything stacked against them, played the best show of their entire career. Simply incredible.