The rise of Palace cannot be attributed to record sales. Their latest LP Shoals entered just outside the top 50, 29 places higher than their 2019 sophomore effort Life After. Palace’s success is down to their live reputation. Palace demonstrated their resilience at their 2019 Village Underground gig when just a week earlier, their tour van was stolen to wow with their emotionally literate, melancholic indie.
Over the years, Palace has continued to win over Londoners from previously selling out smaller London venues, including Brixton Electric, Shepherds Bush Empire, Scala and Camden Roundhouse, to play the largest London show of their career at the Brixton Academy.
Their new LP Shoals was released last month. It was written and recorded when frontman Leo Wyndham described himself as exceptionally fragile. “When music was taken away (due to lockdown), I started to wonder what the fuck my purpose was”.
Before Palace began to play, the stage went black, and a perplexing soundscape of a cacophony of what can be described as wind amidst torrential rain juxtaposed to a helicopter gave way to the penultimate and title track of this new LP. Whether it was the backdrop of the Shoals LP artwork of an idyllic reef or Wyndham’s bright green and black guitar (which looked a lot like a custom made games console controller), the packed Brixton Academy elatedly welcomed the return of the light and Palace.
The traditional appeal of Palace has been their mellow quiescent and sombre arrangements to lyrics addressing emotive issues, including mental health and bereavement. This kept fans returning to gigs and grew their fan base. To date, it had been surplus to requirements to exceed the bpm, turn up the guitars and indulge in elevated levels of rhythm and melody. Whilst Palace fans don’t have a perchance to crowd surfing, Palace often took the courageous plunge by rocking up several songs. The impressed audience responded with more loud singing of Palace lyrics, occasional hand waving and dancing.
From the zither country-style guitar on “Holy Smoke”, The Bends inspired guitars on “It’s Over”, guitar leads and riffs on “Gravity” accompanied with bass and synth keys and “Fade” reminiscing of early Boxer Rebellion material. These personal and emotive songs were transformed into anthems for all. Fans seemed rejoiced that the personal and traditionally non-instant and non-mainstream tracks were no longer just niche, underground—thousands of others connected with Palace on an individual level the way they had. The collective synergy reached its zenith with “Bitter” being received and performed as if it was a rock ballad and anthem.
Whilst this Brixton gig was a celebration of bringing shy, isolated sounds and ideas to the mainstream, it did not dilute or disintegrate the quirky and unique fragility that created these songs. For instance, the new song “Where Sky Becomes Sea” seduced because it had an unnerving sense of a shipwreck or sailors potentially being lost at sea as they became seduced by a disingenuous siren song.
As well as celebrating their triumphant return, Palace also brought out support acts Chartreuse and Billie Marten at the end of the show. These acts, particularly Chartreuse, have sensitive and mellow characteristics to their sound, which would have impacted audiences in smaller venues like the London venues Palace initially played in more. Hopefully, these acts will have the same opportunities. Palace had to grow organically and genuinely and adjust whilst retaining their meaning and ethos as Palace has done.