Image: Sophie Flint Vázquez

Pale Waves live review: angsty pop-rock for the current day

Rating:

O2 Academy Birmingham, 14 February 2022

What do you get when you cross The 1975’s production, Avril Lavigne’s vocals, and Paramore’s lyricism? The answer: Pale Waves. Formed in Manchester in 2014, Pale Waves are the current-day iteration of angsty yet upbeat mid-2000s emo. And while their sound may not be wholly original, their pop-rock tunes tick all the right boxes. 

This meant the band was at their best during the slow, lovey-dovey ballads, which ironically are the ones I am most likely to skip when listening to their studio recordings

A year after the release of their sophomore album, Who Am I?, the indie-rock four-piece was finally able to tour, taking the Birmingham O2 Academy by storm. Armed with effortlessly cool, calm, and composed frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie, Pale Waves know how to capture a crowd – and that’s exactly what they did. Wearing leather head to toe, and enough dark eyeshadow to ward off any stray parents at the show, Baron-Gracie projected a strong aura of danger and excitement that made taking your eyes off her impossible. And with enough added theatricality and performance, it was clear she had nailed the formula to being the ideal frontwoman for the modern-day indie rock band. 

For the entire night, hundreds of wide, awe-struck eyes followed Baron-Gracie’s every move. The deep-rooted connection between her and the fans was palpable, filling every nook and cranny of the 3,000 person capacity venue. This meant the band was at their best during the slow, lovey-dovey ballads, which ironically are the ones I am most likely to skip when listening to their studio recordings. The stand-out song of the night was their performance of ‘Odd Ones Out’, an acoustic dreamy love song. Listening to it live brought what is otherwise a generic love song to life.

But for all the concert’s merits, the excitement from both the band and the audience was just not there. For every buildup during one song, there was an equally dramatic fall in energy levels after it. This made for a seemingly endless cycle with no climax, energy levels rising and then fizzling out with seemingly no end in sight. And it wasn’t until their closing number, ‘There’s a Honey’, that people’s pent-up energy exploded into cheers and headbanging – something which had not happened throughout the rest of the gig. Perhaps this was a result of people’s embarrassment, or perhaps it was due to a lack of encouragement from the band themselves. But by the end of the show, there was even a weak attempt at a mosh pit, which, for a concert where the audience was primarily composed of young teenage girls, was quite the feat. The energy came too late though – by the time the concert reached its peak, the band had gone off stage, the room was emptying, and nothing was left but broken plastic cups on a sticky venue floor.

While ‘Television Romance’ or ‘She’s my Religion’ are welcome songs on any playlist, after listening to them for an hour and a half each lovesick, angsty, saccharine synth-rock tune blended into the next

Pale Waves are considerably bigger than they were a few years ago after first bursting onto the scene in 2018 with their debut album My Mind Makes Noises, but there’s still something that seems to be preventing the stars from claiming their place in the contemporary rock hall of fame. And after seeing them live, it is evident that the ‘something’ is just how repetitive their music is. While ‘Television Romance’ or ‘She’s my Religion’ are welcome songs on any playlist, after listening to them for an hour and a half each lovesick, angsty, saccharine synth-rock tune blended into the next. What’s more, Heather Baron-Gracie’s vocals are an acquired taste, to say the least. Described as whingey by some and unique by others, her voice is partly what makes Pale Waves so polarising. And while this works when listening to their songs individually, it becomes tedious and painfully repetitive after listening to their music for 90 minutes straight.

There is hope, however. One of the highlights of the night was when the band played a currently-unreleased new song called ‘Jealousy’. After its release, it might just become one of the strongest in their discography. Blending the well-established signature Pale Waves sound with heavy rock-inspired elements, the track shows the band pushing out of their comfort zone and into new territories.

At the moment, Pale Waves are good but nothing spectacular. They’ve not broken any musical boundaries, reinvented a genre, or made an album good enough to make it onto any of my ‘Album of the Year’ lists. But they don’t need to. They know exactly where they stand, comfortably occupying their own space in the music landscape. 

The fact is, seeing Pale Waves live is fun. Is it a life-changing, borderline-religious experience? No. But it will make for a good night out.

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