In a week where Frank Ocean was making news for being a reluctant festival headliner, a different artist across the pond was quietly proving that they are a better live band than ever. 20 years since their formation, Paramore are in the midst of their sold-out UK and Ireland tour, choosing a setlist which seems to highlight the strength and stability of where they’re at.
It’s fairly well documented by now that the Paramore story has not always run smoothly. Over the years, there have been exiting members, lawsuits and a whole lot of deeply-disdainful misogyny aimed at Hayley Williams, labelled as a young diva who bossed the boys about in her own attempts to be a star. Paramore’s music has been consistently excellent, but the lyrics have told the truth of the toll that this uncertainty has caused. While their core fanbase has always stuck firm, it’s fair to say that in the aftermath of ‘After Laughter’, it was immediately clear that this was a band that would return. But then the pandemic happened, and while they finally got the proper downtime they deserved, they were also blowing up with a whole new generation on TikTok, a renewed energy that reminded them of how desperately they were needed.
As a UK celebration of comeback album, ‘This Is Why’, the 2023 tour has all the usual Paramore hallmarks; big head-banging hits, a ‘Misery Business’ fan up onstage, the whirling dervish of Hayley Williams who somehow never drops a note despite her movement. And yet, where previous tours have felt thrilling in the anger expressed onstage, the sweatiness of the tiny room or the slightly erratic tension between soon-departing members, the overarching feeling in Manchester Arena truly was one of ease. In fact, of the many times I’ve seen them live, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them look more comfortable, or more grateful to be there. On at least three separate occasions, Williams effusively thanked the crowd for the privilege of letting them ‘grow up’ with the band, for being ‘family’, and for keeping them close despite nearly breaking up ‘5000 times’. It’s the usual patter you might expect from a grateful artist, but combined with her broad smile, freewheeling dance moves and the symbiotic tightness with which the band performed, life in Paramore has never seemed peachier.
It’s a feeling of hard-won victory that carried through to the setlist. Where tracks like ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Told You So’ have previously been staples, the focus this time around seemed to be choosing songs that were more upbeat, with strong messages of hope, recovery and positive nostalgia. ‘Hard Times’ was intermingled with a riff from ‘Heart Of Glass’, while ‘Rose Coloured Boy’ saw Williams drop a few playful lines from ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. Embracing her femininity in ways that may not have felt possible when she was trying to prove her credibility as ‘one of the pop-punk boys’, it was a joy to see her emote so widely and freely, and to encourage others to do the same. By the time we got to the inevitable ‘Misery Business’ invasion — tonight by fans who turned out to be from Manchester group, Peaness — the feeling of ‘next-gen community’ was palpable, of women grabbing opportunities by the horns and sharing in the joy of being themselves.
It’s the kind of conviction that can take a band (especially one involving women) some time to build up. For years, fans have begged for them to perform ‘All I Wanted’ live, a song that Williams has spoken about avoiding for fear that she might not be able to deliver its flagship soaring note. Not only is it finally on the setlist for this tour, but she utterly smashed it, roaring to the rafters.
Where other nights have seen Williams tackle a solo cover as part of a ‘Self-Serenade’ series, in Manchester, it was also decided that they would pay tribute to their favourite UK city with an extremely rare outing of ‘Misguided Ghosts’, a song that to me, at 16, perfectly captured the relatable aimlessness of feeling sad without really knowing why or how to confront it; “See, I’m trying to find my place/But it might not be here where I feel safe/We all learn to make mistakes/And run from them.”
Delivered in its spellbinding acoustic form, there was no running to be found. Teen years are hard, and while we all knew and loved Paramore then for their angst and energy, something about the low-key moment in the set felt especially powerful, finding a place of acceptance. In performing this song about acceptance and uncertainty, Paramore seemed to recognise what it would mean for fans to hear a song like that, in this room, forever changed by the 2017 arena bombing and the youthful innocence that it stole.
The thoughtfulness and class with which Paramore choose to signal meaning to their fans is something that they have in common with their recent tourmate, Taylor Swift. Onstage in Tampa after news of her breakup with actor Joe Alwyn broke, Swift introduced the song ‘Lover’ last week by explaining that “Some of these songs may have been about me at a point in my life… but my dream is that they go into your world and become about your life.”
Some fans read it as a subtle way of encouraging fans to focus on their own relationship with the music rather than probing into Swift’s personal life, but it was a line that ran through my head as I watched my own favourite band, thinking about why it is that they manage to feel so communal even when playing the biggest of stages. As they stopped off at moments in their back catalogue – ‘Playing God’, ‘That’s What You Get’, ‘Decode’ – I thought not just about the losses their band has seen, but my own; the friends that I grew up listening to this music with, relationships that have shifted in ways I haven’t always wanted or foreseen. But in the way Paramore confronted them head-on, I also felt the courage of everything I’ve gained; an exciting career, a greater resilience to adversity, even my soon-to-be husband who I dragged along to a show in 2013 and is now also a fan. With my upcoming wedding in mind, to see Williams not only reclaim love songs like ‘The Only Exception’ and ‘Still Into You’ from their initial context of divorce, but to juxtapose them against the newer peace of ‘Crystal Clear’ and ‘Liar’ (written for the seemingly-happy relationship she is now in with guitarist Taylor York) felt like true catharsis, a moment of mutual stocktake without having to spell anything out.
For the first time in mine and Paramore’s mutual lives, it seems like the thought of embracing adulthood isn’t quite so scary. There is strength in letting go, of knowing that what you have now is not only enough, but plenty, shaped by everything that went before. For a band that seems to always be there in the moment I need them, it’s a thrill to see them finally at peace, to sing out the ultimate sense of closure in ‘Crave’: “What if I told ’em that now that I’m older/There isn’t a moment that I’d wanna change?” In Manchester’s context especially, getting older is a privilege, and Paramore prove that it can be done with grace, humour and courage — the kind of live show that really does feel like coming home.