Paramore At Hammerstein Ballroom, Thursday, May 16th, 2013
“We’ve been killing it every single night,” Paramore’s Hayley Williams said at the encore and on the strength of one of the most perfect rock concerts of the year, it doesn’t sound like bragging.
I caught the band at Summerstage in 2008 and what had happened to them was Hayley Williams had become a superstar and the rest of the band resented it. Her ego paved the way for a terrible and bloated performance and it was followed by their worst album.
Bad vibes abounded.
In December 2010, the Farro brothers –Josh and Zac, guitarist and drummer for Paramore, walked out . Apparently, it had become the Hayley Show and the band itself wasn’t signed to Atlantic, only Hayley was signed. Essentially, Hayley had morphed herself into Jon Bon Jovi and the band members, friends since High school, felt betrayed.
This could’ve gone any of many ways but after a really only two year hiatus, Paramore returned with their eponymous new and improved fourth album. It entered the charts at # 1 (though it didn’t remain for long) and it is a pop-rock masterstroke. If the tee-shirts reading “Paramore Is still A Band” seems untrue, whatever they are they are better than ever.
At the Hammerstein, Hayley dealt with the Farros break on the very first song, the lovely and low key “Interlude: Moving On’ with just a ukulele supporting her, it was a kiss off but not a shrug. Like when you are finally over a guy and are really just indifferent. It was a sweet closing of one door before the band as a whole charged through the other door in a relentless barrage of guitar and hits. “Misery Business” and “For A Pessimist, I’m really Optimistic” followed and when I studied the setlist a couple of days, it was self-evident this would be a devastating 1-2-3. What wasn’t obvious that the Goth gloom Twilight soundtrack song “Decoded” would be equally forceful and the reaction from the mostly young girl audience best defined as rapturous adoration, for the third song in a row the energy level on stage and from the audience was ridiculous: it was sky high. “Now”, a song I actively disliked a month ago when it dropped in a month, is perfect in context, Hayley a whirligig of movement, the bass player, bassist Jeremy Davis headbanging from song to song when not bending low so rhythm guitarist Taylor York can somersault over him during “Pressure”.
“Pressure” gets another huge response and about now I think we all realize that there isn’t going to be much of a lull. Indeed there isn’t any lull whatsoever. Perhaps, Hayley’s introduction to their first hit song “Whoa” went on too long but she had something she wanted to explain. “If we could get just one person to sing along”, Hayley said. “we could build for there”. Paramore are successful because they keep getting their one person to singalong. “Whoa” is just one word repeated in the chorus, but it is a build and release, it attacks from the inside and the fans could easily enjoin with the band. It was a shared experience and Hayley, whether she is in reality an egocentric wretch or a sweet girl, a spoiled popstar or a hardcore rocker, gets how to keep the fan enthralled.
The song was a highlight, but so was nearly every single song. Hayley was like Tarzan and the songs were the limbs of trees and she just swung from one to the other with her feet never touching the ground. Just when the set should be going into its mid set lull, they real off newbie “Fast In My Car” and follow it with oldie “Ignorance” –another epic anthem.
If the songs are lyrically indifferent, well indifferent is not a synonym for bad. In context, these songs of love found and lost never lose their “Whoa” factor, even on “The Only Exception” –as close as they get to a slow number (salvaged from the dreaded brand new eyes third album, follow up to the major breakthrough riot!), they are built around indelible choruses whatever else is happening in the song.
No, that’s a lie. They are built around Hayley Williams who, watching it start to slip away three years ago, stopped and regrouped. Headlining Hammerstein (and not for the first time by any stretch), gone is self-puffery and Gwen Stefan self-delusion. The pixie on stardust has changed to the centrifugal force center stage when not dash, rushing, splashing her way from one end of the stage to the other. Non stop. This is Hayley’s chance to get it really really right. To nail it down. To change herself from an emo Zoey Deschanel to, well, to a Hayley Williams. At 24 years old, she still has the look of pixie dust, but singing and snarling, leading best foot forward an army of admirers, Hayley isn’t faking the star act or charming the teen girls: the performance is so straight forward it is in your face, and the songs are like finely crafted marblettes of pop. And Hayley is the top pop.
Paramore the album was about rock songs as pop moments, on stage the band is about rock songs as rock moments, delivering intense romantic vignettes as loud as they possible can. They are a better band now, the songs are more tuneful and the performance is crisper, Hayley channels her energies where they need to go and stuff like her claim that “There is nothing except for love in this whole world” sounds less silly when it is followed by a stage full of fans dancing to “Anklebiters”
There were no real mistakes Thursday night, and at no time do you wonder what on Earth were they were thinking of (the way I did the entire time I last saw them -a dreadful 20 minutes at Jingle ball). Instead, for 105 minutes they played lean hard rock with melodies and anthems for their immediate fans and to an audience that is like one long embrace, the symbiosis definite and definitive.