NEW YORK, NY—It was unseasonably warm for an October day in New York City, with temperatures in the 70s. Kay Hanley credited her band, Palmdale, for bringing the balmy weather from their native Los Angeles.
Palmdale’s stop at the Mercury Lounge kicked off their first-ever tour. The band, composed of Hanley and Kevin Dotson (aka Linus of Hollwood) is still young; they formed during the summer last year. But neither member is new to the industry.
Singer Hanley led the Boston alternative group Letters To Cleo in the 1990s and then began releasing solo records. Instrumentalist Dotson used to lead the pop-punk band Size 14, and he has both recorded solo albums and produced for a range of other musicians.
The two initially got together to write songs for other artists, but they decided they were better off calling themselves a band and performing the songs themselves. Palmdale’s bio mentions both members were fans of each other’s music beforehand. Fittingly, Hanley wore a shirt for Dotson collaborator Bowling For Soup while onstage.
Since Dotson and Hanley come from a ‘90s rock pedigree, Palmdale fittingly keeps the aesthetic of that just-barely-nostalgic decade alive. Their repertoire even includes a heavily reworked cover of Local H’s “Bound for the Floor,” although they did not play it at the Mercury Lounge. Their sound is driven by guitars and big, bright melodies and its pop punk flavor harkens back to both members’ first bands. Bubblegummy alt-rock wasn’t a rarity in the ‘90s, but it’s an appealing and unpretentious sound. The talented Palmdale write with enough flair to make it refreshing—see the surprising structure of “West Coast Serenade.”
Palmdale released its first digital EP, Get Wasted!, in March, and followed up with a second, How to Be Mean, on Nov. 9. But concert attendees could buy limited pressing CD editions of both EPs at the merchandise table and listen to How To Be Mean before the masses did.
Brooklyn locals Field Mouse opened the show with the delicately surreal and introspective music off their debut album, You Are Here. Bandleader Rachel Browne punctuated the dreamy songs with down-to-earth banter in-between, expressing her distaste for explaining a song’s meaning. While Field Mouse wasn’t quite my thing, they were great, and I expect them to grow more popular in the indie scene.
While Dotson plays most of the instruments on the records, Palmdale performed their main set with session musicians accompanying Hanley on lead vocals and Dotson on electric guitar and backing vocals. Constrained to a 45-minute set, Palmdale stuck to playing music from both of their EPs and one cover song (The Outfield’s “Say It Isn’t So”) and didn’t throw any Letters To Cleo songs into the mix. They opened with “Meet the Future Downlow” from How to Be Mean, giving the audience its first taste of the new EP.
One of Palmdale’s best numbers is “Here Comes the Summer,” a jaunty tune with lyrics bitterly reflecting on boredom and aging: “Back when I was young/full of piss and bubblegum/Couldn’t wait for June to get here/Now there’s no more books/But got the dirty looks/As I medicate myself with cheap beer.” The audience responded most enthusiastically to this song, and Hanley had them sing the backing vocals to the chorus.
Sadly, the time circumstances were not favorable for Palmdale or the audience. The doors opened at 6:30 p.m. and Palmdale went onstage at 8 p.m., neither of which is a convenient time on a Thursday night. This probably contributed to the small turnout of approximately 50 people. You could also tell the band felt pressured by the 45-minute time limit and didn’t get to loosen up. Hanley in particular expressed uneasiness over whether she had time to talk. At one point, the drummer began playing the next song during one of Hanley’s breaks as a prank.
The set’s biggest revelation was in the encore. The support musicians left the stage, and Hanley and Dotson performed by themselves, appearing noticeably more relaxed. They hosted a brief game of “Stump the Linus,” in which Dotson plays a metal riff requested by the audience on acoustic guitar, and then proceeded with their last songs of the night.
Palmdale performed with nothing but Dotson’s acoustic guitar and both members’ well-harmonized voices. Not only did the music sound more intimate, as you’d expect, but it flattered the songs. In particular, the pretty melody of “Happiness Has a Half-Life” stood out more than on the studio version. Palmdale is about the chemistry between Hanley and Dotson, and it was all they needed to put on a good show.