Palma Violets talk inspiration, past Bay Area performances

Julie Zhang/Staff

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The show won’t begin for another hour, and Palma Violets’ keyboardist, Pete Mayhew, lights a cigarette and leans against the faded blue wall of Bottom of the Hill, the San Francisco venue where the band would perform later that June 4 night.

Mayhew is wearing a black wool coat and white T-shirt, a stark black-and-white portrait of musician Nick Cave peeking out between his lapels. The shirt depicts Cave in all his dark glory, smoking a cigarette with his right hand — an image that, in its own way, recalls the similarities between Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and the members of Palma Violets.

The comparison is one that Mayhew himself has drawn: In a 2013 interview with Louder Than War, the group was asked if the plan was to “burn bright once and be done.”

“No, we want to be like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds,” Mayhew answered. “We’ll just get better and better.”

Watching Mayhew take a drag on his own cigarette, mirroring Cave exactly, it’s easy to realize that his comparison was correct.

The members of Palma Violets have come a long way since they last played in the Bay Area.

“We played outside the front pillars — out in the front there — last year,” says guitarist and vocalist Sam Fryer, referring to Sproul Plaza.

“Yeah, it was Harry (Violent)’s birthday,” Mayhew says. “We went to a … it wasn’t quite a frat party, it was a —”

“A co-op party,” Fryer interjects.

“Yeah, a co-op party,” Mayhew agrees.

“It’s the one with all the green walls,” Fryer explains, unable to recall the co-op’s name. “We actually went to the all-girls one by accident at first — it was next door. We got hurried out of there.”

“Yeah, they were quite strict about that, actually,” Mayhew says.

“It was kind of like going to fundamentalist Christian camp. They were like, ‘Get out! Next door (is what) you’re looking for!’ ” Fryer continues. “It was really fun, though. I had a really good time.”

When Palma Violets is not touring, the group is still based in England, with no plans to move to the United States despite its successes, which include a nomination for BBC Music’s Sound of 2013 award and a win that dubbed the group NME’s best new band that same year.

“You don’t really spend enough time anywhere to decide (where to live),” Mayhew says, “because you might just be in the really nice bit (of a place) for a day and think, ‘Oh, this is great,’ and the rest of the place might just be really horrible.”

But that night, the band’s show at Bottom of the Hill is far from horrible.

Palma Violets opens with an otherworldly rendition of “Peter & the Gun,” Mayhew’s keyboard organ filling the room like beautiful musical smoke. The band then erupts into a joyful celebration, performing “Best of Friends” — proven worthy, when performed live, of its title as NME’s best track of 2012.

During a cover of the Hot Nasties’ “Invasion of the Tribbles,” the band is joined onstage by its merch guy and right-hand man, Violent, who launches himself into the crowd from the part of the stage with a sign that loudly decrees, “No crowd surfing.”

Making his way to the end of the band’s set by performing vocals on a cover of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Death is Not the End,” Fryer’s words from the afternoon come floating back.

“See, we’ve got the visions now,” Fryer says. “So we just carry on through everywhere.”

If San Francisco counts as “everywhere,” well, Palma Violets can keep coming.

Contact Tyler Allen at [email protected].