Paramore delivers the pop-rock show we need in 2017

Image: Lindsey Byrnes 

Two magical entities ruled Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday night: Hayley Williams and feelings.

Not only has the 28-year-old singer always fronted Paramore, she’s always been Paramore—at least the embodiment of it, anyway—her clear, formidable voice and delightfully fizzy stage presence always rising above the band’s rotating cast and remarkably bold genre switches over the years. It’s largely thanks to her that the band has aged so well.

Now, in 2017, watching Williams dart around the stage is still like watching fireworks go off. In fact, it makes one regret all the times one has used the Energizer Bunny as a simile—it’s Williams who really deserves it. 

On this tour, just as she did on Paramore’s latest record, After Laughter, Williams shed not her energy, but her indestructibility. She’s instead embracing a straightforward emotional openness that embodies not only a new era for the band, but the kind of live show we need in this taxing political era—one that often seems like it’s never going to end.

Between songs, Williams discussed feelings—the full gamut—candidly. Before “26,” a sweet, lachrymose song that would feel corny if it wasn’t so damn genuine, she addressed the band’s obvious sonic evolution, particularly as compared to 2007’s emo classic RIOT! 

“It was easier to say things with a snarl,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s just nice to be real about where you’re at and be vulnerable.”

In the band’s new songs, that philosophy is particularly visible. “Hard Times,” which opened the show, is After Laughter‘s first single—it’s highly danceable, unabashedly ’80s, and about Williams’ own depression. That these qualities can exist at once, that Williams, even, can still be in the thick of them as she delivers her work to an audience, is the magic of this particular show at this particular moment. Things can be broken—in fact, the bad stuff can seem relentless—but it’s possible to, at the same time, be enveloped in joy.

“It was easier to say things with a snarl,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s just nice to be real about where you’re at and be vulnerable.”

“Whatever choice you made, you made a choice that brought you here,” Williams said midway through the show. It’s true: each audience member had somehow, some way, found a brief oasis. A reliable group if there ever was one, they cheered just as loudly for the new tracks (the bouncy “Caught in the Middle”) as the time-worn classics (the raging “Ignorance,” which somehow managed to fit right in).

Speaking of those older songs, perhaps the most glorious moment of the night came from a track from RIOT!: the snarling, sauntering “Misery Business.” That’s the song, if you’ll recall, which was the subject of controversy earlier this year for an “anti-feminist” lyric, one that Williams doesn’t sing live anymore, and has repeatedly chalked up to teenage songwriting and toxic “cool girl” culture (who among us can point fingers, TBH). 

At this show, though, “Misery Business” was as resplendent as the audience remembered. Before the final chorus, Williams invited two young women from the audience onstage and handed them a mic. Obviously, both were thrilled, and all three women spent a full minute hugging each other before the band kicked back in full force. And when Williams and her two fans, twirling and thrashing onstage, sang the final words of the chorus—God, it just feels so good—“Misery Business” felt like something different entirely. Empowerment? A new kind of rawness? Whatever it was, Williams was right. It did feel good.

To be sure, Hayley Williams and Paramore aren’t the only ones making this kind of emotionally-forward synth-pop. Carly Rae Jepsen, for one, has been mentioned more than once as a clear influence on After Laughter. The connection is undeniable. Try playing “Rose Colored Boy” and Jepsen’s “Emotion” back-to-back and see if you don’t start your own tear-streaked dance party.

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But there’s one key difference here: Williams has never been a solo artist. Despite her star power—and there’s a lot of it—she’s always stayed with the band. Fans might love Williams best of all, but they also love Paramore as a rock band—one that, for many fans, has grown and changed and messed up with them. Perhaps that’s why when she introduced each band member, the crowd cheered the loudest for Paramore’s original drummer, Zac Farro, who returned to the group in February after six years of absence. 

It was a lovely thing to see, a reminder that what is broken can come back together again. Or maybe it was just a nice moment in a beautiful theater. But this is 2017. If we’re going to feel it, we’re going to feel it all.

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