(photo is not mine – full credit goes to Twitter user @ashpolini, whose Twitter profile can be found here: https://twitter.com/ashpolini)
It’s not that rare for a band to be better live than they are in studio – some groups just can’t recreate the unique electricity that flows through a live performance. It is, however, rare for a band’s live show to legitimize and validate a band’s studio output, and Paramore is one such example of that sort of rarity. Paramore is a band that has been putting out solid emo-pop for ten years, with their latter offerings leaning much more heavily toward the pop end of the spectrum, but as well-crafted as their studio work may be, it’s not the sort of material that could convert non-fans. However, their live show is a different story entirely. A mini-tour dubbed “Writing the Future” passed through New York’s Beacon Theatre on May 6th; the show was a celebratory affirmation of everything the band has accomplished thus far. The show contextualized and fleshed out their good but inconsistent self-titled album, and the sheer energy and electricity on display was enough to make a fan out of anyone.
Opening act Copeland, who many were unfamiliar with prior to this tour, were nonetheless treated respectfully by the sold-out Beacon crowd as they played through a short, 45-minute set. Highlights included the opening one-two punch of “Disjointed” and “I Can Make You Feel Young Again,” both of which were taken from the band’s 2014 release Ixora and were dramatic and stirring in a live setting. At one point, lead vocalist Aaron Marsh commented that “this song probably appeared on a bunch of MySpace profiles back in the day,” a funny line that nevertheless demonstrated just how long some of these bands have been active for (and how much social trends can change in a decade or so).
Then came the headliners.
Blasting out of the gates with “Daydreaming,” Paramore blared their way through a dynamic, 21-song, nearly-two-hour setlist. The set as a whole was much deeper than the main legs of the Self-Titled Tour, with selections from all four of the band’s main studio albums, plus some non-album singles and B-sides. The show was sequenced expertly, snaking from beaming emo-pop to darker alt. rock numbers, to tender acoustic ballads and back again. Paramore, the album, had a tracklist that didn’t seem to have much regards for flow, but the Writing the Future setlist ebbs and flows through different styles and moods extremely effectively. The live setting truly brings out the best in some of the new songs – “Ain’t it Fun,” for instance, is transformed from catchy but incredibly cheesy pop fluff to an infectious, rapturous singalong when taken out of the studio. And “Future,” already an album highlight, is mind-blowing in a live setting, with a sustained Hayley Williams vocal wail serving as a bridge between the melancholic acoustic intro and the crushing space-rock outro.
Speaking of Williams, she proved to be a consummate showwoman, bounding across the stage from end-to-end like a red-haired comet, slapping hands with fans and singing her lungs out as she did so. Being a smaller-scale show, there was indeed a good amount of banter from Williams between songs. These ranged from stories of how touring guitarist Justin York taught the band about palm-muting (“it’s why the choruses sound so awesome!”), to how Williams’ parents’ divorce shaped her lyrics and world-view, to heartwarming sentiments about how Paramore shows were not just a band playing to fans but more like a family gathering. Her easy-going, affable nature helped make the show as intimate and fun as was advertised.
The show was not perfect from a technical standpoint – touring drummer Aaron Gillespie lacked the precision and ferocity of his studio counterpart Ilan Rubin, and the mix in the theater (excuse me, Theatre) tended to bury Jeremy Davis’ bass-work. But Paramore has never been a band about pristine musical technique, and the energy and passion with which the night’s music was played more than made up for the few technical shortcomings.
Despite the members’ faith, Paramore is not a Christian band and doesn’t use music to try to convert anyone. But being surrounded by close to 3,000 people, singing and dancing and swaying in unison…it certainly feels like communion. Writing the Future enhances Paramore’s studio material in the way that only a live show can, and could convert even the staunchest non-fan into a true believer.