About three-quarters of the way through their first set in New York since 2011, Paramore brought things back to the start. Lead singer Hayley Williams relayed to the sold out Hammerstein Ballroom a story about the early days of the band, when the then teenage group played in empty rooms to crowds who couldn’t care less. This led into a rendition of All We Know Is Falling cut “Whoa”, which is about as simple as the title would suggest. Rather than a celebration of the past, the song was more of an awestruck ode to how far they’ve come. “This is such a simple song, and we thought we were geniuses when we wrote it,” said Williams, stifling a laugh because, for their brand of intelligent pop-punk, they may as well be labeled geniuses now. The occasion behind the show was the tour behind their latest and greatest (by some margin) album, the self-titled Paramore.
“This new album…it’s our favorite thing that we’ve ever done.” That statement can read as a sales pitch, a “thanks for being here, so give us more money” pitch, in the hands of a lesser band. Yet when Williams says it, you take it as you do the band’s music: earnestly and graciously. There’s no irony in Paramore’s catalog; after all, the band’s third song on the night is named “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic”, less a wink and more of a mission statement. Believe or not, Paramore used to lean more towards the front half of that title, a severe band camouflaged by charisma and sheer force of personality. Now, after a tumultuous lineup change that caused two of the founding members to leave on not-so-great terms, it’s becoming obvious that optimism wins; the princess of spades has grown into a queen of hearts.
The old songs still gathered in some of that previous angst, but its now channeled through rose-colored shades; band unity manifesto “Looking Up” reads a bit condescending on record, but now that they really didn’t hang up, it sounds more like an exhale than teeth grating. Same goes for “Ignorance”, which may or may not be about departed Farro brother Josh, and sounded as hard as anything the band has ever done. Well, except maybe for the live outro to “Let The Flames Begin”, which continues to be a crowd-pleasing burst of passion, at God or each other or whatever you want to believe in.
The two most famous Paramore songs brought very different yet almost equally pleasurable moods to the venue: “Misery Business” led things off (after a short ukulele intro from the new album), immediately jacking things up to 11, while “The Only Exception” might as well have been the crowd’s open letter to each other (don’t think too hard about the fact that it’s about the dude who wrote “My Friends Over You”), all sways and hugs and some tears. It was a weird dissonance, hearing songs that were created under non-ideal circumstances, but via both the new energy and Williams’s traditional charisma, they were used not as nostalgic looks back, but rather as present adoration for what they’ve created.
It was therefore not surprising that the most joyful parts of the set were those that pulled from Paramore, such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs-aping “Now” (hearing that “na-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ow” chorus live is something that needs to be experienced at least once), or the pop-punk power trip “Anklebiters”, which on this night featured gang backup vocals in the form of Hayley-chosen audience members. Pre-encore set ender and current single “Still Into You” featured hand claps, that sticky guitar riff, and streamers blasted into the audience. However, it was current song of the year candidate “Ain’t It Fun” that shone as the best of the bunch here, as its Jackson 5-inspired groove brought a nice bit of dance to a night of generally rocking numbers. Bonus points for how much, well, fun the band seems to have when they play these new songs, with Williams running around in a sugar rush, while guitarist/other-songwriter Taylor York and bassist Jeremy Davies bounced off each other, both metaphorically and literally. This is a band that almost broke up, but the fact that they persevered and regrouped in order to make their (as of now) masterpiece…that’s nothing to scoff at. Joy is infectious, and under the rule of Paramore, it’s hard to believe that anyone left Hammerstein Ballroom with anything less than a jaw pain-inducing smile.
Openers Kitten are made of a similar mold as Paramore, following an energetic front woman to the gates of hell and back. That front woman is 18 year old Chloe Chaidez, who comes off as more of an atmospheric presence at times yet can grab your attention by the throat when needed. Towards the end of the band’s set, she jumped on one of the mountains of amps, both to scream her lungs out and to sit and let her band fill the air around her. Even from halfway back on the floor, the smile on her face was evident. Their brand of post-punk-tinged pop demanded center-stage, and whether by design or not, they were the perfect entree for a night that proved, among other things, that few bad things can happen from letting a young band explode with intensity.
Interlude: Moving On
For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic
Ain’t It Fun
The Only Exception
Let The Flames Begin (w/ live outro)
Fast In My Car
That’s What You Get
Still Into You
Brick By Boring Brick