Sometimes a Monday night is the best time to clear your schedule and go enjoy a show. On this particular Monday night at The Earl it was a little extra special. Not only were one of Athens’ best bands, Grand Vapids, headlining, but a band from New York, Mail the Horse, that everyone had been raving about prior to the show was playing. But what made it that extra special is that this show was the official debut of Sydney Eloise & the Palms as a full touring band.
You see, Sydney Eloise & the Palms are a local band here in Atlanta about to release their debut album, Faces, on September 22nd on LP & CD from The Cottage Recording Co. and on cassette from Bear Kids Recordings. But here in Atlanta, before releasing their music for the world to hear, hype was already building behind the scenes after being named to Creative Loafing’s Best and Most Anticipated Albums of 2015. Within the two weeks leading up to this show, the singles started appearing with high praise from sites like CMJ, PopMatters, Immersive Atlanta and more.
When writing about music, people always try to make comparisons to best describe the music and give the reader an idea of what to expect when listening. For Sydney Eloise & the Palms names like Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, Fleetwood Mac and other names have been thrown around. Throw in talk of Phil Spector and George Harrison influences, and well we were beyond intrigued by this band. So intrigued that we interviewed the band before the show to get the whole story, which you can view here.
With the crowd getting there early to check out this new band, out trotted Sydney Ward with her marching band hat on ready to own the stage with her band. With the band playing together for their first official show, you don’t usually expect much. Nerves, the too pumped jitters, lack of enough practice time, or just not being the cohesive unit at the beginning are all things that can be noticeable during a first show.
But if there were nerves from this band you wouldn’t have known it. Maybe it was the playful hat that kicked things in gear and signaled to only have fun on stage, or maybe it was just 6 friends that love playing together and have worked extremely hard to be prepared for this moment. You wouldn’t have walked into the back room at The EARL thinking this was some brand new band. Instead you saw a band that played tight together, all in sync, all enjoying the ride. And these aren’t simple songs we are talking about here, there are big arrangements behind the songwriting that really puts them over the top.
Most comparisons to other bands are never really fair. Even the band admitted in the interview that there was probably a little something to these comparisons, that those Sydney Eloise & the Palms are being compared to probably have similar influences as they have. There is undeniable hints of Jenny Lewis and others in Sydney’s voice. Live and in person Sydney’s voice held up to the recordings, true beauty. Make no mistake though, this band isn’t just a rehash of these other bands. We are talking about a band that had unlimited access to one of Atlanta’s best recording studios, The Cottage, with their multitude of instruments at their disposal to create these huge arrangements that separate this band from other singer songwriters. And that was probably the most impressive thing about the show, just hearing Sydney Eloise & the Palms recreate these songs live in such an impressive fashion when, admittedly, during recording they weren’t considering the live show.
Sydney Eloise & the Palms powered through about 9 songs off their upcoming album with highlights like “Reckless”, “Always Sailing” and “Tell Me What I Want To Hear” showing both a playful side, and a serious side of their music. With a crowd full of friends, old and new, that were most likely hearing the band live for the first time, there was definitely that feeling of something special happening in the air at that moment. If you listen to today’s pop music, you tend to forget just how great “pop” can be. And when a band tells you they are making “weird, pop music”, in today’s world your probably expecting some kind of electro pop full of “experimental synths.” But not Sydney Eloise & the Palms, no computers, just real instruments making sounds of the past that sound fresh. There’s always going to be a place for good pop music like this, and that time is now. Sydney Eloise & the Palms album Faces is definitely on our radar as one of the most anticipated of the fall, and no doubt everyone else in the crowd that night felt the same.
It’s almost always a weird thing to have such a phenomenal opener. Luckily for the crowd, the middle band and headliner are no joke. Up next was Brooklyn’s Mail the Horse who were traveling down south in a small school bus. Mail the Horse came highly recommended from multiple friends and this was our first time getting to check them out.
If we hadn’t already known that Mail the Horse was from Brooklyn when they started playing that would have been the last guess. Out came some good ole fashioned country fried rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of grunge and an ode to Gram Parsons and harmonies to boot. Mail the Horse quickly won over the Atlanta crowd playing a lot of songs from their recently released LP, Planet Gates. You couldn’t help but be obsessed with the musicianship on stage from these guys. This was the perfect band for that inner old soul. With a keyboard, pedal steel guitar, in addition to guitars, drums, etc., this band could rock a punk show or a southern festival on a farm with cows and chickens running around. It’s hard not to appreciate what Mail the Horse is bringing to the table. They were the right bridge from Sydney to Grand Vapids, a band to love whenever you have the chance to see them live.
Last but certainly not least is a great young band from Athens, GA, Grand Vapids who released their debut album Guarantees early this year. Grand Vapids was a change of pace from the first two bands. Their sound isn’t such a throwback to sounds of the past as it their own newer brand of indie rock. Their music is the type that can punch you in the gut, but yet still has a chill calming effect. The guitar arrangements are meticulously crafted along side their rhythm section. Add in layered synths that fit perfectly into their sound without overwhelming and you have a band that’s ready to make noise.
Grand Vapids tore apart the stage at The Earl, impressing their friends in the crowd, the other musicians, current fans, and new fans alike. This wasn’t our first time to see Grand Vapids, and certainly won’t be the last. They have an energy on stage that can get the moodiest of people into it and rocking right along. Just another new, creative indie rock band in the long list of great indie bands from Athens, Georgia.
Watch Sydney Eloise & the Palms perform “Reckless” live at the EARL:
Watch Sydney Eloise & the Palms perform “Tell Me What I Want To Hear” live at The EARL:
Photos By: John McNicholas
Review By: Mike Gerry