The crowd at Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, California was an absolute nightmare Wednesday night. People posed for group shots using bright flashes, furiously posted photos to Instagram, and fired texts to friends. Cameras were held aloft. One guy had his up for almost half of the show — it probably would've stayed up there for an entire show if another concertgoer hadn't gone up and ordered him to put the damn thing away already.
Why the insanity? Post-rock supergroup Palms played their first-ever live show, and the audience wanted to get a taste of frontman Chino Moreno, better known as the singer of the Deftones. But tonight there were no adrenaline-pumping nü-metal riffs and only a handful of his bloodcurdling screams. This show was about something much slower, more patient. It was about mood and texture. It was intense, but probably going to make for a pretty boring cameraphone video.
Aside from Moreno, Palms features guitarist Bryant Clifford Meyer, bassist Jeff Caxide, and drummer Aaron Harris, all of whom used to play in Isis, a post-metal outfit famed for its gloomy atmospheres and crushing riffs. With their powers combined, these four make for a mighty ensemble. But they're not really a metal band; they're more like a post-rock band, with shoegaze-y tendencies. Their songs move at a slow, steady pace, with vaporous keyboards and guitars mixed in. Playing all six songs from their just-released self-titled debut, Palms followed a template that would be familiar to any fan of Explosions in the Sky: open quietly, lead into a measured interplay of tension and release, and then explode into climax with big, distorted riffs.
The approach is nothing new, but Palms pulled it off with grace and power, bowling over the audience with sheets of sound. "Mission Sunset" was downright breathtaking. Opening on a cloud of icy-cold electronics, the band spent 10 minutes traversing one build after another until the room was trembling with brooding bass tones and Harris' thumping drums. Pulling his vocal cords as taut as a wire cable, Moreno — looking sharp in a flannel shirt and groomed goatee — drew up a slow melody that was simultaneously sweet and raspy.
Bands this decidedly awe-inspiring sometimes become too intense for their own good, and Palms occasionally bordered on the over-serious. It's understandable, though, considering that their lyrics deal with some heavy stuff. Though he wasn't mentioned by name, their blistering encore — album closer "Antarctic Handshake" — felt like a cathartic goodbye to Deftones bassist Chi Cheng, who passed away in April. At one point, it looked like Moreno was wiping away a tear, singing, "It's time to let go."
This doesn't mean the band wasn't without occasional moments of levity. Towards the end of the set, they whooped up the crowd with a gnarly take on Swervedriver's "Rave Down," a driving shoegaze anthem that's full of heavy riffs. And their touring auxiliary keyboardist did a goofy little dance when he didn't have any parts to play.
In a lean seven-song set, Palms ran the gamut of emotions and the audience did too. Beyond camera-mania, there was one couple that promptly began making out when they played "Patagonia." Put away the phone, and Palms might have that kind of power over you too.
"Rave Down" (Swervedriver cover)