Review: Palm Honey’s psych-out at The Sunflower Lounge

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  • Reading psych-rockers Palm Honey played the headline slot at Birmingham’s Sunflower Lounge
  • Their psych-by-numbers sound and energy got the Sunflower crowd going
  • Diverse support came from Babeheaven and local noisy trio Exhailers

 
The start of Exhailers’ set had me very, very worried. They seemed too close to being a Sonic Youth tribute band at first, right down to the bassist’s Kim Gordon impression over a discordant guitar jangle, as well as drastic shifts from loud and heavy to quiet and moody. A few songs in, however, more of their own personality shone through and they won me right over. They are so comfortable on the stage that they are simply joyous to watch, as well as hear. Their set is like a studied retrospective of 90s U.S. alt-rock; modulated guitar warbles preceding fuzzed-up riffs, a really good awareness of dynamic space that never remains too loud or soft for too long, and barely in-tune instruments. They are charmingly unprofessional and incredibly endearing, you should definitely see them if you get the chance.

It didn’t really work to sandwich Babeheaven’s set between two guitar bands, and it’s unfair to them because they played a polished, slick set which really impressed. It seemed as though they were caught between Exhailer’s mates leaving and people arriving for the headliners, so the room was comparatively sparse. Not so for the stage, however. Babeheaven filled the stage at the small Sunflower, with five band members who could not move for gear. Two guitarists who both also play keys, plus an extra set of electronic drum pads and there isn’t room for much else beyond essentials. All the gear is put to good use and their instrumentation is a rich accompaniment to the vocalist’s controlled and characterful voice. Their sound is a soulful, dreamy and electronic all at once, defying a simple genre categorisation. It seemed as though their set was over a bit too soon, but then they did have a lot of stuff to get off the stage before Palm Honey could get started.

Palm Honey have a lot of good hair between them, and the sight of them on stage is a wigmaker’s dream. Sonically, they’re in the Tame Impala school of neo-psychedelia, prioritising catchy hooks and rich, layered sounds over the drawn-out improvised freakouts from the sixties. There is a subtle nineties Britpop flavour to their sound, like Stone Roses’ ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ or The Chemical Brothers at their most ambient and psychedelic. They use simple but heavily processed guitar parts to undercut the contrastingly clean and understated vocals. Punchy-structured and accessible songs are punctuated with detours into noisy territory, like a dozen guitar pedal demos being played at once, with some synths on the top for seasoning. They never linger in the noisy freakout zone for too long, and soon return to their more palatable and catchy songs. The crowd were very energised by Palm Honey, more than one would expect from a psych rock band. I didn’t expect to see someone jump on their friend for a piggyback, least of all with the Sunflower’s low ceiling, but Palm Honey have that effect.