Pale Waves – Live In Nottingham Feb 202 review EJ Scanlan
Pale Waves. A band who have completely set the indie-rock genre on fire. From being signed to iconic British independent record label Dirty Hit, famous for signing bands such as Wolf Alice and The 1975, to winning the Prospect Music Award to then becoming big favourites among indie fans across the county, Pale Waves are certainly a band that have interested many people.
My opinions on Pale Waves are very mixed. Critically, their music is mostly mediocre, and their sophomore album, “Who Am I?” is not the greatest in my opinion. But their live presence is completely undeniable. I’ve seen the band play twice, first at Dot To Dot Festival where they blew every other band performing that day out of the water with how sensational they were, and secondly on their headline tour at Rock City in Nottingham, where they were magical, to say the least. Tonight, they return to Rock City for their “Who Am I?” tour, and it’s fair to say that my expectations are mixed. If I was seeing this band before their sophomore record dropped, my expectations would be incredibly high, but as they have released this record, which isn’t at all great, I’m skeptical that the nature of that album will affect their overall performance and they won’t perform to the best of their ability. Having said that, while researching Pale Waves ahead of tonight’s show, I re-listened to their debut album “My Mind Makes Noises” once again, and despite me being a fan of the record, critically it doesn’t work, so if their material the first couple of times wasn’t there but their performance was solid, maybe they could knock it out of the park this time with a far weaker discography, but time will tell…
First of all, though, we have the matter of the lead support act to discuss. Hot Milk are a pop-punk band and was actually the first band I saw straight after lockdown, and so obviously there was a lot of emotion around Donington Park at Download Festival that rainy Friday afternoon in Derbyshire, but did they hold up after? Both yes and no… You can’t deny that Hot Milk know how to hold a crowd, with their sensational opening sequence, their band chemistry and everything else. However, as great as their love presence is, what really makes a great live performance is how well a band can execute it, and they didn’t execute it very well, with some pretty dire vocals throughout, especially towards the end. With work on those vocals, they could be exceptional in the future, but for now, at least, improvement is needed.
25 minutes later, Paramore’s “That’s What You Get” was blasting out of the Rock City speakers and everyone was loving life, but then, the music cracks and the lights go out rapidly, leaving the six main overhead lights on overseeing the crowd that’s been on since the second Hot Milk left the venue. As they gradually fade towards the stage, they go out one by one incredibly rapidly as strobe lights suddenly implode the strong 2,000 capacity auditorium, as the band come on, they play “Change”, the lead single from their sophomore record, “Who Am I?”, and while the crowd were giving the auditorium energy and feeling in bucketloads, on stage, the band felt completely dry, wasting the energy they built just moments earlier. The vocals were great and the musical chemistry was excellent, however, my worst fears had come true… Pale Waves’ new sound doesn’t fit with their live performances. This is further proved with their next song, “Television Romance”, which has a lot more audience energy in one minute than what “Change” had throughout its duration. However, surprisingly, they still felt incredibly stale onstage. This isn’t the Pale Waves I’ve seen bless this iconic venue before, this is something so much weaker, which as a fan of the band, was gutted by, they did absolutely nothing on stage besides playing their instruments and getting through the song. It doesn’t help that their messy lighting design with a very random and sudden strobe light going off during the second verse of the track, where I just couldn’t stop thinking “why was that deliberately placed there? It makes no sense”. The ending was the best part of the track, it’s just a shame that it still was a relatively weak performance overall.
As a guitar roars through the crowd, lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie screams “how you feeling?” as the crowd scream and cheer, prompting the band to perform “Eighteen”, the first track from their 2018 debut album, “My Mind Makes Noises”, and the crowd’s even more energetic than the first two tracks combined, thinking this would’ve prompted the guys to get their crap together and perform, but no, it still felt like I was watching corpses at times. Having said that, in the final section before the chorus, the guys really took off and did a great performance with great chemistry and vocals all the way through that final section. What we were lacking from the previous two songs was now ever-present. Moving onto “Tomorrow”, aka – the only song on “Who Am I?” that I can actually stand (sorry Pale Waves!), Baron-Gracie introduced it by saying “this song was wrote for you and will always be for you”, which I thought was a great way to present the track. The performance itself, like the previous three, was dry, but the crowd brought the energy. The vocals and sound were effortless and it made me think how a band can bring so much energy while looking totally dead and not looking like they’re enjoying it. It’s a shame, as that key component that they’ve had in previous shows was missing.
“Do you guys wanna fall to pieces?” Baron-Gracie asks as she introduces the next track, conveniently titled “Fall To Pieces”, though that’s probably the first time I’ve ever heard a crowd willingly scream and consent to falling to pieces. Moving onto the actual performance of the song, we have our first vocal mishap as Heather’s vocals feel off in parts, having said that, she recovered exceptionally well. The crowd reaction was sensational during this and the track was performed adequately, to say the least. I’m personally not a fan of the song, but it had a great reception which is what matters most. For the start of “One More Time”, Baron-Gracie sang acapella as the 2,000 strong crowd screamed the lyrics straight back to her, giving memories of me being pushed into a mosh pit midway through this song the last time I heard it performed live. This was the first time I saw the band come alive as the response from the audience was fantastic. It worked wonders.
The first time I heard “Wish U Were Here”, I thought it sounded like white emo trash, and hearing it tonight, those thoughts were solidified, as it didn’t at all work, despite the wonderful stage presence. Even the crowd joined the band in their coffin for this one, this whole performance was dead, unfortunately. It helps that the song sounded exactly like it did on the record, but it also hinders, as I wanted something a little more out there. It’s a shame that this didn’t work out. For “Kiss” however, it’s a completely different story. The crowd instantly woke up and were given a whole new lease of life, like they were touched by the Resurrection Gauntlet (AKA – the metal hand) from Torchwood (any excuses I have to include Doctor Who in my work, I’ll take instantly!) as the atmosphere was marvellous, even provoking the first (and only) mosh pit of the night, meanwhile on the stage, that atmosphere wasn’t rubbing off as it was absolutely dead. Something even more worrying that I noticed, lead singer Heather was singing into a mic in an auto-tuned filter going into it, with then a millisecond later, talking into it as if it was natural… my instant thought was, what the bloody hell is going on? Whether she was miming that part to the backing track or it was bad timing or anything else, it didn’t quite add up with me.
Heather then gets out her very out of tune (towards the start anyway) acoustic guitar to perform “Odd Ones Out” which was performed very well, with the crowd singing along getting their cigarette lighters out, it was a really beautiful atmosphere with the band backing her very well indeed. The band then surprise everyone by playing a brand new track called “Jealousy”, which is “for the jealous type of people”, surprisingly. And while I can’t comment on the track as a whole as with the full live atmosphere it was hard to fully analyse, I can tell you that the verses were excellent, though the choruses were insanely predictable and samey throughout. Live, the atmosphere was electric, with the crowd responding so well to the band’s new rockier sound, it was a good shout to perform this new track as it’s got me intrigued to hear the rest of their new material (including a track written about Maeve and Otis’ relationship in Sex Education for some reason).
“Who’s favourite colour is red?”, Heather asks the crowd which respond with cheers and applause while I respond with an eye roll, knowing they were about to introduce their song “Red”. The style of artists that do this type of thing is mostly the pop-punk sort of bands, maybe some poppier artists too, and while I can somewhat tell this is the direction Pale Waves want to go in, they still give off this sophistication to them that they don’t have anymore, and so it felt very out of place, therefore denoting that they really don’t know who they are any more or what sort of band they’re trying to be. Coming off from my rant, the actual performance, especially of the choruses was exquisite. Great vocals, great energy and great chemistry, it worked so well. Baron-Gracie did keep missing words out in the last section though, but the energy was undeniable. Moving onto “My Obsession”, the band gave their best performance of the night, with a really lovely crowd response to a proper sad-boy indie-pop anthem. The band’s stage presence had improved phenomenally with some sensational vocals in there too. It was a pleasure to watch, this is the Pale Waves show I had been waiting for, it’s just a shame that I had to wait 12 songs to get to this point.
“The Tide” was next to be performed and this had people on each other’s shoulders which added to the overall mood of the gig, the band’s chemistry and performance continued even more so, and there’s a lovely section towards the end which focused on drummer Ciara Doran which was great to see too, I just wish there was a little bit more for them to do, but it had a great reaction from the crowd, with the guy next to me cementing to his girlfriend “no songs better than that”. Moving onto “Easy”, Heather Baron-Gracie introduced it by saying: “This is a song about falling in love”, and that was heavily noticeable as this performance was amazing. I didn’t write a lot of notes for this performance (and the rest of this set) because I was so in the moment here, it was amazing, it was atmospheric, it was wonderful all the way through, making up for the absence of “Noises” in the setlist. Did the performance make me like the song a little more? Surprisingly, yes! It’s no “Sk8er Boi” and it has its issues, but the performance has definitely made me fall in love with that song a little bit more, which is great to see.
The guys came back on stage after an encore that was heavily asked for by the crowd, in which we had a voiceover which I couldn’t properly hear what it was saying, but either way, it added more tension in the auditorium, as the band then perform “She’s My Religion”. A wonderful love song celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, the crowd instantly responded with cheers of excitement, with pride flags all over the venue, including a one that Baron-Gracie stole from someone on the front row and wore around her shoulders with pride throughout the remainder of the set. This was by far the most magical moment of the whole show and it was wonderful to be a part of it. Moving onto the final track of the night, their debut single, and my personal favourite of the band’s discography: “There’s A Honey”, and this passionate energy reached its peak as the climactic ending of the show was upon us. The band performed insanely well as the crowd screamed and danced and the band brought the feeling and mood in bucket-loads. This was one hell of a moment and ended with me smiling a lot, as this was a fantastic end to the show.
So overall, Pale Waves were very disappointing tonight, the energy that they brought once upon a time wasn’t as prominent as it used to be, the live presence was lacking, but the band’s chemistry was second to none. I mentioned at the very beginning of the review that support act Hot Milk have the stage presence but not the execution, Pale Waves have the opposite issue, which is still quite problematic. The weaker sound of their sophomore album is ever-present within the band’s performance, but having said that, Pale Waves know how to make a sincerely beautiful aesthetic, and despite them lacking as many of them tonight, they still know how to pull it off, making it just wonderful throughout.
- Change (Who Am I?)
- Television Romance (My Mind Makes Noises)
- Eighteen (My Mind Makes Noises)
- Tomorrow (Who Am I?)
- Fall To Pieces (Who Am I?)
- One More Time (My Mind Makes Noises)
- Wish U Were Here (Who Am I?)
- Kiss (My Mind Makes Noises)
- Odd Ones Out (Who Am I?)
- Jealousy [New Song]
- Red (My Mind Makes Noises)
- My Obsession (ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID EP)
- The Tide (ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID EP)
- Easy (Who Am I?)
- She’s My Religion (Who Am I?)
- There’s A Honey (My Mind Makes Noises)