Review: Paramore – The O2 Arena, 12/01/2018
With last year’s intimate UK tour completely selling out, Paramore’s return to UK arenas was bound to be huge. The trio decided to use the opportunity to party with their friends – and frontwoman Hayley Williams’ favourite band – mewithoutYou.
The Pennsylvanian four-piece have recently celebrated the 15-year anniversary of their debut album, [A–>B] Life, but decided to forego playing material from their first album in this set. Instead, their 40-minute stage time was filled with an eclectic mix of material drawn from their recent back catalogue. They used the opportunity to demonstrate exactly what mewithoutYou are about to anyone in the crowd who was unfamiliar with the band.
Opening the set with Torches Together, mewithoutYou’s penchant for spoken word poetry made them instantly comparable to The Front Bottoms and La Dispute. That type of music has never effectively broken into the mainstream, but mewithoutYou have been a band for 18 years – they’re definitely doing something right.
It helps that they move between styles so smoothly. Vocalist Aaron Weiss performed the first two songs knelt on a rug on the floor, microphone tipped down towards his face. During Goodbye, I!, though, he grabbed a guitar and started to sing rather than speak, proving that he’s not a one-trick pony. Their music shifted again during penultimate track Nine Stories. It builds to a roaring climax as Weiss screams “I wake up disappointed every time”, leading into a funky breakdown that finally got the audience moving.
Sadly, the lack of interaction with the crowd made the band seem introspective, causing the room to remain disinterested during the larger portion of their set. It’s a peril of appearing before a band like Paramore: they’re high octane, remaining completely captivating even during the more subdued moments of their set. Unfortunately, mewithoutYou just don’t have the same kind of draw. Although they will have created new fans with their performance, the majority of the audience were just politely waiting for them to get off stage so Paramore’s set could begin.
Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume
Paramore last appeared at the O2 Arena back in 2010, just over a year after the release of Brand New Eyes. A lot has changed for the band since then. As frontwoman Hayley Williams herself said, “It’s been an honour to grow up with so many of you, to tell you our stories”, and the band have unquestionably matured in the public eye, allowing their fans to witness each and every emotional upheaval that they’ve been through.
Not only have they parted ways with three founding members (and reconnected with one of them, drummer Zac Farro), Williams opened up about her ongoing struggle with depression. Despite the hard times that they’ve experienced, the band have still managed to produce two successful albums – 2013’s Paramore and 2017’s After Laughter – emerging on the other side stronger than ever before.
The material from After Laughter sounds even sweeter in an arena setting. Tracks from last year’s lyrically honest and emotionally raw release filled half of their setlist, evidence of how strongly the band support it.
Opener Hard Times now comes with a brand new extended introduction. Building gradually, it electrified the atmosphere while the crowd impatiently waited for the three-piece to take to the stage. When the song finally kicked in the screams were deafening, hundreds of members of the audience surging forwards in a desperate attempt to get closer.
That level of uncontainable excitement continued throughout Ignorance – complete with Williams holding a megaphone up to her mic and yelling the chorus into it – and Still Into You (which Williams dedicated “to Paramore”). Forgiveness was a brief moment of calm, allowing the crowd to catch their breath before bouncing into Fake Happy, their deceptively upbeat recent single which explores the difference between how you look and how you truly feel.
Rather than continually alternating new and old, the band made the brave choice to perform four new songs back-to-back towards the end of the main set. Second single Told You So has received a lot of love since before After Laughter hit the shelves, while Caught in the Middle and Idle Worship are well on their way to becoming firm fan favourites.
However, No Friend has continually struggled to get the appreciation that it deserves. That’s because it’s vastly different to every song Paramore have ever released. The only vocals that appear on the track are those of mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss, and those are distorted and obscured, almost impossible to decipher.
Aaron Weiss reappeared to perform vocals on No Friend.
With Weiss in the building his return to stage wasn’t surprising, but what shocking was the pure emotion pouring from Williams and guitarist Taylor York. The moment Weiss set foot on the stage, Williams fell to her knees, rocking backwards and forwards inconsolably, seemingly possessed by pain and regret. York remained composed while playing, but as soon as he’d finished playing he put down his guitar, crouching at the front of the stage and taking heaving breaths as the song reached its conclusion. It was an unforgettable performance, and the most powerful part of the show.
Another memorable moment occurred in the encore, with Farro stepping out from behind his drums and taking over vocal duty. Playing a cover of French Class by HalfNoise, Farro’s solo project, the camaraderie between the band members made it impossible not to enjoy the indie-pop track. With Williams alternating between drumming and singing backing vocals and the two singers breaking into an impromptu dance routine mid-song, it was an imperfect yet intimate performance.
Drummer Zac Farro showed off his vocal skills while performing French Class by his other band, HalfNoise.
Before starting closer Rose-Colored Boy, Williams quietened the crowd down before wandering around the stage, giving individual introductions to all of the touring members who perform with Paramore. Cheers echoed throughout the venue in appreciation of Justin York (guitarist Taylor York’s brother), Joey Howard, Logan MacKenzie and Joseph Mullen, who all bring their own special spark to Paramore’s live show.
It’s a reminder of an undeniable fact: Paramore are a band. The popularity of their frontwoman is irrelevant, because this is not the Hayley Williams show (although that knowledge seems to be lost on some publications). Not only do Farro and York bring an insane amount of talent to each performance, but the four touring members do too.
Yes, Williams is a captivating frontwoman with ridiculous vocal skills, limitless amounts of charisma and an irrepressible energy, but there’s a reason she’s not a solo artist. Every person on that stage brings something important to the proceedings, and it wouldn’t be a Paramore set without each and every one of them. It’s the reason that Williams chants “We are Paramore!” at the end of the night, extending that claim to every member of the audience who put on their dancing shoes and lent their vocals to the raucous singalongs throughout the set.
Still Into You
That’s What You Get
I Caught Myself
Hate To See Your Heart Break
Caught in the Middle
Told You So
Ain’t It Fun
French Class (HalfNoise cover)
Before Hate To See Your Heart Break, Williams admitted, “If I hadn’t been playing music with my friends it would have been a much worse 2017,” and it’s fantastic to see Paramore starting 2018 by playing shows of this size. There are rumours that the band are going to pop up on the UK festival circuit this summer, but they’re are yet to confirm further UK tour plans. Fingers crossed there will be news soon.