Yonaka’s absence through illness affords Starbenders a longer set than they were expecting, and there’s a moment when Kriss Tokaji is playing a guitar solo, shirt off, curly hair swinging and you think to yourself: “he’s but a top hat away from being Slash” and that suits the whole of Starbenders, because they are here to party like it’s 1986. “Blood Moon”, swapped to set opener here, and “BITCHES BE WITCHES” are pure, unadulterated rock n roll, but they also do a neat line in power balladry too. “Never Lie 2 Me” has more than a touch of Heart about it, “Cover Me” with all its 20th century stylings is a peak and “Seven White Horses” completes what me might term the “engine room” of the set. When the band return after the solo it is, according to singer/guitarist Kimi Shelter (I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest its not her real name) to “unleash the gates of hell” and they do inject some real power into the set, with “The Game” and “Something Ain’t Right”. As they end with their anthem “If You Need It” Shelter reckons that “I am from a small town in Georgia, I never thought I’d be all this way out here playing for all of you.” To be fair to her, she’d better get used to headlining places like this, because this is 80s sounding, but with a freshness and there’s a real chance that Starbenders might be the best rock n roll band out of Georgia since Biters. Praise doesn’t get much higher around here.
Palaye Royale are a phenomenon – that’s not hyperbole.
Fans were queueing here for this gig at 9am. It’s not the coldest day on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, but still, it speaks to the devotion of the army of fans that the Kropp brothers have garnered over the last six or seven years.
This place is special to them, though. Just before the pandemic they were supposed to play a gig in Birmingham which was pulled with the bizarre excuse that “the safety of the audience couldn’t be guaranteed”. It was switched 15 miles up the road at 24 hours notice, a fact singer Remington Leith notes when he offers “we love Steel Mill, fuck the O2’s”, proving the old wounds haven’t healed.
Tonight, is the first chance they’ve had chance to bring their full production to the venue, however, and my God, they are sensational.
It’s telling that Jim Morrison’s “Is everybody in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin.” from “American Prayer” Is piped over the PA before Palaye Royale come on, because this doesn’t feel like “just” a gig. This feels like a spectacle . It actually feels like you are intruding on some religious event, such is the fervour engendered from the moment that “Nightmares” unleashes a tsunami of ….well, what? The truth is that each of the hardcore are finding their own ways to enjoy this, but “No Love In LA” is somewhere between art rock and punk – and anyway, whatever this is, you can’t take your eyes off it. It’s as compelling as it gets.
The lyrics are raw, “Broken” is catharsis, not just for the band for the crowd, and the energy which has coursed through this goes up a notch further for “Fucking With My Head”.
Then, in “King Of The Damned” there’s a moment. You think you’ve seen everything in 32 years of gig-going. I haven’t though, seen a dinghy appear and a singer crowdsurf (crowdsail?) to the back of the room, swing from the roof beams and get back in his craft. Yeah. Leith did that.
He’s a stunning frontman whether in a boat or not. He can command an audience like few others, and whilst it might help that the audience appears to know every word, there’s no denying the power of work like “Dying In A Hot Tub” (played for the only time on this UK run here).
“Mr Doctor Man” makes a statement and its all too much for drummer Emerson Barrett forgoes his drums for a crowdsurf (losing his scarf in the process) while “Off With The Head” is huge. The outro section is like a Queen gig from Rock In Rio in the 80s in scope, it’s a fitting closing to the main set.
The brutal, beautiful “Lonely” (“it’s a tough song to play when my mom is in the audience” says Leith) explodes into a sea of colour for the first part of the encore, while “Fever Dream” is their signature piece – and after throwing roses into the crowd, they are gone.
The reason I used the word “phenomenon” at the start of this is simple. Its rare you see a band and a crowd together like this. Leith tells the packed faithful “you are just as much part of this band as us”, and guitarist Sebastian Danzig explains that “you let us be who we are”. For once these are not empty platitudes. Together with their so called Soldiers of the Royale Council, they are unstoppable. Tonight was proof that you don’t need to be in an arena to play an arena rock show and there’s nothing quite like Palaye Royale, that’s a fact.