Every so often a band comes along that defies any expectations you might have had just looking at their name or their album cover or their press photos. One time in 2016, my roommate had a playlist on in the background and when the opening spidery riffage of ‘Ankles’ by Palm locked my attention, I knew this was music made to fill a room, untethered and bouncing wildly off every surface. The only kind of reaction I could muster was turning my head towards my confidante, brow knitted in wonder and confusion and asking, “What IS this?” It’s the kind of joy you get, when you feel like the firm, self-assured handle you have on genre is in limbo and the predictive powers you get to flex in a listening experience are really, kinda moot. When Ecclesiastes:19 says, “What has been is what will be, and has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”, the band Palm says, “Hold my beer.”
It’s been four years since Palm played in Portland and on this particular rain soaked evening at the Doug Fir Lounge they were here with touring buds Water From Your Eyes, an equally mercurial band from NYC, along with support from local act sqip. The groups each brought their own flavor of dish to the table, wholly distinct but super complementary.
Sqip is the solo project of graphic designer and artist Cole Mitchell Johnson turned full vibing band. With Peggy Fioretti’s bass accompaniment, Corey Wilchin on guitar and pedals, Brendan Swig playing drums and Cole leading with vocals and keyboard/synth, the set felt like one continuous passage through an underwater crystal cave, plaintive vaporous verses hanging in the air. Brendan’s stellar drumming pushed the songs ahead from one chamber to the next and each member would look to the other to count in the next movement, like a jazz combo alert for their cues. Hearing sqip’s music and seeing them live are two totally different situations and one wouldn’t necessarily anticipate the sort of post-rock flourishes after first hearing the sonic experimentations and gestures on the recent album battery. Hopefully you have the opportunity to do both!
As the mood lighting changed in the room and the smoke machines released another enormous billow, Water From Your Eyes emerged to sound off the alarms, a frenetic dance track barrage triggered by Nate Amos’ guitar pedal set up. Rachel Brown’s deep sonorous delivery followed them as they swaggered all over the stage and guitarist Al Nardo held down a mesmerizing bassline while they swayed in unison. It makes sense that Water From Your Eyes hails from New York because their music carries the confrontational power of 80s no wave provocateurs like Suicide and DNA. Even so WFYE can pair the hardstyle techno breakbeats and dystopian percussion with a sweet psychedelic tune about companionship like “When You’re Around.” The pulsating rhythm of a piece like “Track Five”, in all its discordant volume, had the ability to magnetize an entire audience.
The members of Palm made their entrance in darkness backed by an arpeggio of blissful soft synth flutes, almost replicating some forgotten SquareSoft Start Menu instrumental. A quick tonal shift as the group leapt into the heavy lambast of “Eager Copy.” Bassist Gerry Livitsanos was center stage also on synth duty, dressed in a Disney themed collared shirt and tie and convulsing to every low end hit like a possessed air traffic controller on the dials. Drummer Hugo Stanley maintained the bombastic pace of each song, somehow finding ways to use the entire kit and end back on the one beat. Although the time signatures of Palm songs can go to unexpected lengths, it was fun witnessing the audience collectively figure out how to nod their heads to the band’s deconstructed telescoping pop music. Guitarist and vocalist Eve Alpert would jump around and punch at the air like a fighter warming up before entering the ring, taking big swings at her programmed drum pad. The choral interplay between Eve and fellow guitarist/vocalist Kasra Kurt paired so well together, especially when joined harmoniously on songs like “Away Kit.”
Although everyone’s playing is past the raw clay period, there’s a lack of self-consciousness to Palm which is a marvel to witness (Eve has mentioned that no one really knew how to play their instruments before starting the group). It’s the approach of a band iterating with a blank slate and then working disciplined as all-get-out to piece together each composition, pulling in influences as disparate as Neil Young, DJ Rashad, Old Table, Eric Dolphy, and Ana Mazzotti and then doing it all over again for the next record. At the Doug Fir show, I think it was even a surprise for the members themselves to see so many people turn out for this performance. Gerry’s eyes went wide, hearing people screaming for the band at the back of the room. It goes to show that Palm has been an abjectly missed musical act in Portland and we hope to see them again much sooner than later.
Sqip can be found at sqip.bandcamp.com.
Illustration by BB Andersson