Manchester Academy, 27 September, 2019
A rainy night in Manchester might just be the perfect way to wrap-up Pale Waves‘ whirlwind 2019. As frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie tells us early on in tonight’s rammed sold-out show, this city “is where it all began” for the goth-pop bunch, long before their debut album ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘ cemented them as one of the UK’s most exciting bands.
Having mastered the art of a slick, condensed set over the summer with countless festival appearances, the group are back home for their final headline performance of the LP 1 era. In the immortal words of Baron-Gracie herself: “Let’s fuckin’ ave it!”
Opening with the juddering bass synth of ‘Eighteen’, the crowd scream back every single word of the track; lead vocals barely audible over the sheer hysteria inside the Academy. This madness continues into ‘Kiss’, a Cure-influenced burst of pure joy, as fans seemingly compete to belt out its lyrics the loudest (too close to call).
On stage, it’s as polished as it comes. Ciara Doran’s snare sounds like a trigger-happy Phil Collins is at the reverb switch, her kit locked in with Charlie Wood’s bouncing basslines. During the electrifying ‘Red’, Baron-Gracie roams the stage free from her guitar, fittingly lit by the colour of blood. Fans as far back as the rear bar are already on mates’ shoulders, before ‘Television Romance’ and oldie ‘The Tide’ are aired. It’s clear we’re witnessing a special moment in Pale Waves’ story so far.
Baron-Gracie addresses the significance of tonight’s show throughout the set. “You know what? Our first night out as a band was a gig at this exact venue,” she recalls at one point, after explaining they played to audiences of “about 30 people” back in the early days. “Look how things change…”
Indeed. And with the growing crowds comes newfound confidence in the once-reluctant, mic-shy frontwoman, whose dedicated followers lose their minds each time she steps off stage to interact with the front row.
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“This is a song for everyone who wants to give up on life,” Baron-Gracie says to introduce ‘Tomorrow’, a brand new pop-punk banger exploring the frustrations of being an outsider. Complete with a fist pump declaration that “sexuality isn’t a choice” – a message etched into the singer’s leather jacket at the previous show – it signals a departure for the lovesick, autobiographical lyrics in favour of addressing issues faced by the band’s predominantly young fanbase.
“I’ll preach ’til the day I die,” Baron-Gracie tells the crowd towards the end of the main set. “Be who you wanna be.” On dance-leaning ‘Came In Close’, the frontwoman dons a rainbow pride flag offered to her from the pit as she throws herself around in the dizzying chorus.
Big-hitters aside, Pale Waves’ headline show allows them to dip into some of the darker, gut-punching corners of their debut. On ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)’ – an ode to Baron-Gracie’s late grandfather – the singer strips away the sugary pop sheen, standing alone in the spotlight with an acoustic guitar. “I’m gonna play you a song now and it means a lot to me,” she says. “My family’s here tonight. This is for them… and Karl, too.” Elsewhere, the glistening ballad of ‘When Did I Lose It All’ reaches an almighty guitar solo climax, which could sit over Slash’s ‘November Rain’ helicopter shot moment. Massive.
It’s moments like these that give a finger up to naysayers who, perhaps, dismiss the group as one-trick ponies, hinting at what sound’s to come when they inevitably hit arenas in the very near future. Trust us, it’ll happen.
After leaving us in darkness for the encore, Pale Waves return with the double-hitter finale of ‘Noises’ and ‘There’s A Honey’. On the former, a pop gem that wouldn’t be out of place on Taylor Swift‘s ‘1989’, Baron-Gracie stands triumphantly atop Doran’s drum riser, absorbing the scene of the venue jumping to its ecstatic solo.
“This is the last song of this tour and we wrote this song in Manchester,” Baron-Gracie tells us, taking stock of the full-circle moment while placing emphasis on her home city’s name. “We’ve played in every single small venue in Manchester, so this is pretty incredible.”
It may be a ‘Mad Fer It’ Friday night in the band’s hometown, but rest assured that Pale Waves will always bring the party – just expect a much bigger venue next time around. Things are about to get silly.