Just a few months after their stop in Madison this November on their tour with Alex G, LVL UP returned to the Isthmus last night to headline some impressively tight, controlled indie rock chaos—emphasis on controlled.
Brilliant Philadelphia DIY four-piece Palm, ever-growing Madison favorite Trophy Dad and LVL UP formulated the type of intoxicating bursts of arm-hair-raising live music magic that reminded us all why we skipped out on vital Sunday night cramming to see a live show in the first place.
Trophy Dad started the night off right, playing some old favorites of Shirtless Algebra Fridays and, lucky for us, some newer tracks—most notably their January single, “Louis Sachar.” Watching a local band grow from starry-eyed freshmen into the kind of talent that easily stands up next to some of the most up-and-coming indie rockers on the scene right now is probably something like watching your baby grow up to be the surgeon you always knew they could be. Except I don’t really know, because I don’t have kids and have never met a surgeon.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s always been clear that they’re working with some raw skills, but they lean even further into their practice with every song and performance we see, bringing the kind of musical control that only comes with time. This one was no exception and is hopefully indicative of good things to come this year for our town mates.
During the next set, I received a text from a friend who was previously fairly unfamiliar with Palm: They read “Palm is weird” followed by “Can't tell if I love it or if I hate it.” This is a fair gut reaction to Palm, but I’ll answer that text by saying that anyone who gives this group a bit of their time will probably come out the other end loving them. I never did respond to their text, so I hope they read this article and listen to Palm all week. And I hope you do the same.
Having never seen them live, but listened to their 2015 album Trading Basics a fair amount, their performance just proved they were truly a beautiful machine with the perfect, chaotic moving parts that their recordings paint them as. Tracks like “Crank” and “Ankles,” which already seeth expression in their studio forms, were given new life and context when watching them unfold in real time before my eyes. Palm, in every sense, is erratic—but they consistently get away with it. No outburst or experiment is without its thought-out place, and they’ve got the fine-tuned confidence to pull it off.
New York quartet LVL UP finished off the night, consistently demolishing live versions of tracks from their 2016 Sub Pop debut Return To Love. The album tackles some heady questions and narratives through the ’90s alt-rock-esque mumbles strained through the lens of a 2017 indie basement show. It translates live into a sound that bounces off your internal mental concrete and forces you to at least bob up and down, if not full-on jump. Their set was filled with nonchalant electricity, deliciously interrupted by a brief and pointed “F**k the American Freedom Party” speech from bassist and vocalist Nick Corbo.
The night wasn’t without the natural hiccups of a end-of-weekend Rath show—charmingly-paced banter, a lost capo, unpolished shuffles between songs—but enough control and precision was delivered by the bands playing. If you’re looking for a bit of controlled chaos among the often monotonous genre of indie rock, point yourself in the direction of one of these bands the next time they play in UW’s backyard.