Changes in musical direction are always risky, and it takes a brave band to embrace it with the tenacity that Paramore has with new release After Laughter. Critically, it’s been applauded; but it has divided fans with some unsure of its 80s synth-pop roots, in spite of the emo lyricism and sunny pop punk attitude that still remains underneath.
Just over five weeks since its release, we found ourselves at the O2 Apollo Manchester, sold out to capacity (on one of the hottest days of the year no less, it’s a miracle we all made it through the evening) and humming with the anticipation of fans who were certain of their love for the band, new direction be damned.
Opening the evening were Bleached, Los Angeles based punk rockers who kicked things off with good vibes and solid riot grrrl tunes, unfaltered by the technical faults that plagued their set. Front woman Jennifer Clavin continued with her powerful vocals even when the microphones cut out and strutted across the stage with a presence that most bands of their size could only dream of. The crowd gave encouraging cheers throughout the issues, which I’m sure Bleached must have appreciated.
Paramore began (a little late – no doubt the sound technicians were trying to avoid any more issues) with latest single and second release from After Laughter, ‘Told You So’, to rapturous cheers and applause. This is the first time in at least 10 years that Paramore has played a UK tour in venues of this size, usually opting for (somewhat soulless) arenas across the country. The underplay show no doubt made the evening all the more precious to those who were lucky enough to bag themselves a ticket.
The new album and, by extension, tour sees the welcome return of original band member and drummer Zac Farro, and the departure of long time member Jeremy Davis. The atmosphere on stage seemed almost euphoric, with front woman Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and Farro looking right at home performing together once again. The hardcore fans seemed delighted with the fact too.
Generally, once a band surpasses three or so albums, set-listing gets a little tricky. Trying to create the perfect balance of album tracks and singles is an impossible task, but Paramore seemed to do a fairly balanced job of creating a sure-fire, crowd pleasing set. The lack of songs from their debut album All We Know Is Falling was disappointing, but hey, you can’t have it all I guess.
Manchester was treated to a number of old favourites (‘That’s What You Get’ and ‘Misery Business’ from second album Riot! as well as Twilight Soundtrack specials ‘Decode’ and ‘I Caught Myself’), which, despite the difference in genres, blended rather seamlessly with their newer, more pop-led tracks (‘Still Into You’ and ‘Ain’t It Fun’ from their Self-Titled release, and the array of tracks from After Laughter: ‘Caught In The Middle’, ‘Fake Happy’ and ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ to name just a few). A beautiful moment occurred in the form of Fleetwood Mac cover ‘Everywhere’, which had the Apollo buzzing and screaming along (mostly out of tune, but absolutely joyful nonetheless).
Mid-set, Williams took a moment to address the crowd and declare her love for the city of Manchester, praising its strength in light of recent events. You could tell that each person in the crowd, regardless of where in the country or world they had come from, felt and embraced every word, knowing that music is truly a beautiful, wondrous and healing thing. Paramore followed the speech with, in Williams’ words, a song about empathy – ‘Hate To See Your Heart Break’ from their Self-Titled album. It was a moment of reflection for the people of Manchester, and a touching one at that.
Paramore finished off the main part of their lively and ultimately fun and sweaty set with their breakthrough hit ‘Misery Business’ which, as is tradition, included a performance from two members of the crowd who were invited on stage by Williams.
Returning for their encore, Paramore performed the Haim-esque ‘Forgiveness’ in almost total darkness, before Williams allowed Farro into centre stage to perform a song from the drummer’s other project HalfNoise. It was a weird transition, all tambourines, maracas and at one point, Williams on the bongos, but charming to see Farro rock the mic for the first time. They rounded off the night with an enthusiastic rendition of their first single from After Laughter, ‘Hard Times’ and with that our night came to a satisfying and sweaty close.
We are Paramore, they are Paramore and no matter the line-up I think we can all agree that Paramore is more than just the musicians on stage in front of us. Paramore is a community, and a band, and for most that will never change, regardless of the fluidity of Paramore’s musical style. Their live performances have always been consistent, in that they always have the electricity and passion that they are now known and loved for and if that isn’t enough for fans, new or old, then honestly I’m not sure what is.