Palaye Royale, Counterfeit & Charming Liars
O2 Ritz, Whitworth St, Manchester, M1 5NQ
Wednesday 19th February 2020
The press release for this Palaye Royale tour states: “Each show comes with an element of unpredictability and danger, with the three guys playing as if their lives depended on it, pure showmanship over perfectionism.” No doubt words such as these attract a certain type of audience and appeal to those of a certain age group who may be just venturing into an ‘alternative’ outlook on music, dress code, attitude. There’s possibly some truth to it as well following the announcement that the show in Glasgow last night was cancelled by the venue after the band maintained that crowd surfing, clambering on balconies etc was part of their show. Cancelled despite the band being prepared to sign waivers and not even be paid until after the gig, so confident were they that no damage would be caused and no harm would be done.
One thing’s for certain, Palaye Royale are popular and fans – the ‘Royal Council’ – are more determined than most to bag a space at the front. There’s a queue outside The Ritz before 4pm and by the time we return at 6.40pm after some shopping and a meal the line of youngsters stretches a good 500m up the road and round the corner onto Oxford Street. Thankfully a pass means I don’t have to join at the back.
Inside and it’s just after 7o’clock yet the place is already half full and there’s a palpable buzz of excitement in the air. There’s a quick moment of surprise when, despite there being a few hundred people in, there’s no queue at the bar. That’s when you realise exactly who the majority of the Palaye Royale fan base are. Not many here tonight are old enough to drink. It’s good to see such a sizeable crowd of young people who have not been simply brainwashed by the mass media into listening to nothing but chart fodder and whoever was at the Brits. And a big shout out to the parents at the back who have brought their youngsters to the gig. Supporting your offspring to appreciate there’s more to everything in life than the mainstream can only be a good thing.
Charming Liars open proceedings with a set of melodic, expansive rocky songs. Opening with ‘Like A Drug’, full of heavy bass rhythms, guitar solo and atmospheric keyboards followed by the quieter, sing-a-long, ‘Soul’ Charming Liars do what they do perfectly well. They’re slick, look like music stars and they go down a storm with those in early enough to catch them. There’s plenty of arm waving, mobile phone torches swaying to the beats and noisy responses at the end of each number. But there’s one big question – Why? Why is a band that basically sing middle of the road rocky songs that are clearly aimed at the mass market, harmless tunes that if they were playing in the background of a pub you wouldn’t notice, supporting Counterfeit and Palaye Royale. There’s no anger, no danger, no real attitude. And when singer Kiliyan Maguire announces their last song of the night and implores the crowd to “go mental” they play one of the least “mental” songs you can imagine. But there’s plenty of arm swinging, swaying bodies and smiling faces so maybe that’s what “going mental” means at a Charming Liars gig. Maybe I’m just an old cynic.
Having daughters that are big Counterfeit fans means this isn’t the first time I’ve seen them. And whilst they’ve moved a little away from the pure anger, energy and angst of their early days – they play nothing from the driving punk influenced debut album ‘Together We Are Stronger’ – they still deliver a fantastic set of songs full of slicing guitars and pounding beats. ‘11:44’ is full of venom, a call to rise against the lies of politicians and control exerted over people – “We need to get it out, you need to be afraid of us”. “I’m sick of people telling me what I can and cannot be” states Jamie Campbell Bower on ‘The New Insane’, a song full of menace. These days Bower has moved forward, away from darker days of drugs and addiction but retains that passion and outrage about societies ills. An advocate for positive approaches to mental health issues, the need to talk and the fact that ‘It Gets Better’ – a song that blends such a powerful message with a melody and chorus that has the packed Ritz raising the roof with their own voices. It’s a short but incredibly strong set. Bower wears his heart on his sleeve and puts every ounce of energy and emotion into each second he’s on stage. His face shows it all – heartbreak, anger, love, a step back from the edge of despair. It’s written all over his features. Surrounded by a band that, like him, give everything it’s little wonder that a sizeable proportion of tonight’s crowd are here because of Counterfeit. Let’s hope that album no.2, delayed after the collapse of Pledgemusic, sees the light of day soon.
Before they even take to the stage Palaye Royale tease the crowd when they appear on the balcony between bands. A mass of teenagers (and a few older) staring upwards, beaming smiles, hands waving. These are the ‘Soldiers Of The Royale Council’, a fanbase completely dedicated to this band. Fans who base their choice of fashion, their make-up, their hair styles on their musical tastes. In 2018 certain parts of the British press were confidently stating Palaye Royale to be the group of the year. A Palaye Royale gig is more than just the songs. A Palaye Royale gig is a show. Yes the songs are strong. Opening with 2019 release ‘Fucking With My Head’, it’s quickly followed by ‘You’ll Be Fine’ and a set of songs that sends the crowd wild. In fewer than three songs singer Remington Leith is in amongst them. These are his people. People who hang on to every word he says, every move he makes. Moments later he’s back on stage but neither he, nor guitarist Sebastian Danzig can remain still for more than the briefest moment of time. They’re on the speaker stack, reaching to those at the front, crouching as guitar riffs rip through the air, leaping around making use of every square millimetre of stage. Noisier, harder, angrier sounding than their recorded output with a visual aesthetic that oozes art and theatrics it’s little wonder this predominantly teenage audience have taken them to their hearts. “Unpredicatable”? – yes. Leith spends almost as much time with/in the crowd as he does on stage, at one point reaching the back and standing on the edge of the sound desk, not singing but simply pumping his body back and forth. When he’s not in the crowd or bouncing round the stage he’s sitting on it’s edge, reaching out, looking his fans straight in the eye, connecting with them. “Dangerous”? – no. There’s nothing dangerous or frightening about tonight. Maybe after that Glasgow gig being cancelled Palaye Royale have toned things down a bit. Tonight is nothing but pure entertainment by a band that knows how to deliver it in heaps. But looking good, having an image and calling yourselves ‘fashion rock’ will only get you so far. Fortunately Palaye Royale also have the songs that appeal to those youngsters who want something a little bit edgy, something noisy, a little rebellious, something that says “I’m not mainstream”. With ‘Massacre, the New American Dream’, ‘Warhol’ and the pounding encore of ‘Mr Doctor Man’ and ‘Get Higher’ they know exactly what their audience want. The last few years have seen their popularity soaring. I doubt it’ll be long before the youth here tonight will be able to boast about seeing this band in Manchester’s Ritz and not some huge, sterile stadium.
Words + Pictures: Steve White