London, O2 Arena, April 20, 2023.
(Photos by Zachary Gray, via Atlantic)
On a drizzly grey-skied night, South East London is multicoloured.
Outside the large white dome of the O2 Arena, swarms of people are making their way into the 20,000-capacity venue. Some with brightly dyed hair and fluorescent eye make-up, others with winged eyeliner and ripped skinny jeans, it’s a sight that can only mean one thing – Paramore are in town.
A band who have had an undeniable hold on their scene and its culture since the release of their debut album in 2005, the Franklin, Tennessee trio have spent 18 years forging a community centred on individuality and expression, but things look a little different to the last time they were in the country’s capital.
Over the span of five years – despite the complications of a global pandemic – we’ve been gifted the long-awaited sixth Paramore album ‘This Is Why’, two albums from drummer Zac Farro’s HalfNoise, and introduced to vocalist Hayley Williams’ ‘Petals for Armor’ solo project. And, during the first of two nights at London’s largest indoor venue, they’re here to celebrate.
As a pre-recorded poem penned by Williams blares out of the arena’s speakers, the pent-up energy of the last half decade begins fizzing out of the crowd gathered in front of the stage, and as the band bound out and launch into infectious ‘This Is Why’ cut ‘You First’, they explode. With the vocalist dancing in a glistening silver dress, Farro donning his signature snazzy hat, and guitarist Taylor York providing a calm and collected presence at stage left, a confetti explosion signals the end of the first song and the party is officially underway.
A band famed for artistic evolution, the one-two punch of politically charged 2023 post-punk track ‘The News’ into ‘Riot!’ fan-favourite ‘That’s What You Get’ showcases the band’s progression in brilliant style, with the latter delivering a shot of adrenaline to the entire arena. After dropping the tempo for a moment on singalong 2009 hit ‘Playing God’, Williams addresses the crowd for the first time with a simple, “Hello London, England!”
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time. We have been dreaming about you and playing shows exactly like this one,” she continues. “We’ve got a lot of crying, screaming, and dancing to do. How about we start with the latter, do you want to dance?”
With a resounding “yes” echoing out, bouncy synth-pop number ‘Caught In The Middle’ sees Williams dancing with touring guitarist Brian Robert Jones as huge grins light up both of their faces. The vocalist takes a minute to guide the audience through some vocal exercises to hilarious effect before fellow ‘After Laughter’ cut ‘Rose-Colored Boy’, sparking a mass singalong that continues into the snippets of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’ during the outro.
As we enter what can only be presumed to be the ‘crying’ part of the set Williams remarks, “It’s been a fun almost 20 years with you”, before lights and voices fill the arena for a euphoric performance of ‘Last Hope’. Fans hold hands and scream the words alongside one another, and as tears are already filling a few eyes, tender performances of Williams’ solo track ‘Crystal Clear’, reflective ‘This Is Why’ number ‘Liar’, and throwback Twilight soundtrack contribution ‘I Caught Myself’ ensure they’re falling freely.
“We’ve done a little dancing, we’ve done a little crying, and I guess we’ve done a little screaming too… but we’re not done dancing yet.”
As Farro counts in 2017 smash hit ‘Hard Times’, the crowd explodes in a buzz of boundless energy before Williams falls to the stage floor to make confetti angels in the gathered red paper. Following an equally vibrant rendition of ‘Still Into You’, Williams welcomes Farro to the front of the stage and picks up guitar duties on an unreleased HalfNoise song, ‘Baby’.
As an assortment of cardboard signs start making their way into the air, it’s clear that seasoned fans know the score. “I’m not gonna say anything, let’s just do it,” Williams smiles as the orchestral intro to 2007 mega-hit ‘Misery Business’ sounds out. As the guitar solo approaches, the band each picks out an audience member to join them onstage. With Williams reading out a sign that says, ‘15 years, 12 tours, 1 Miz Biz’, three fans clamber up to join their heroes and emphatically sing out the song’s climax.
A final dance along to anthemic ‘Ain’t It Fun’ draws the main set to a close. A lo-fi home video montage fills the screen as resounding cheers go up for a clip of Williams’ goldendoodle, Alf. Reflecting on how far Paramore have come and the unbreakable bonds they’ve forged, it’s the perfect introduction to the band’s encore, with ‘Brand New Eyes’ closer ‘All I Wanted’ making its London debut 14 years after its release.
A song that Williams has famously kept off setlists due to the challenges of performing its vocals in front of crowds, it’s pitch perfect, serving as testament to not only the band’s growth as musicians but the confidence they’ve found in their family over their impressive tenure.
“Have you had a good time tonight? Was it everything you needed it to be? Me too,” the vocalist smiles. “Thank you for making life bearable.”
After confirming that they’re already making plans for their UK return, Williams finishes. “Until next time – we love you, and we. are. Paramore.” The audience screams the words along with her as the title track of ‘This Is Why’ closes the night in euphoric style, confetti raining out before final chorus. Exiting the stage waving and blowing kisses to the crowd with smiles still beaming, when the lights go up, those smiles are mirrored on 20,000 faces as they begin shuffling out of the venue.
A dazzling show brimming with nostalgia, authenticity, and evolution, it’s said that you can’t choose your family, but for two hours, everyone in that room is a part of Paramore’s. A band of three, an onstage force of seven, and a community of thousands – in a world that feels more and more divided by the day, Paramore have lit a beacon of hope across the gloomy London skies.