Now, I’ll be perfectly honest: although I’d heard of Pale Waves’ accelerated trajectory from 2015’s unknown university friends to today’s much-fêted media darlings, sold out tours and colossal critical praise, I’d not really listened to any of their music. An aficionado I wasn’t.
As such, I was anxious to check out this “postmodern EMO-Goth, pop rock band” (a rather earnest friend’s description) at the Radio One Tent of this year’s edition of Leeds Festival. I also lived in hope of repeating my ‘Panic! At The Disco epiphany’ at last year’s event by forging a huge enthusiasm for an outfit that had hitherto been on the edge of my radar.
I arrived at the packed-out Radio One Stage tent just in time to see a whooping, fired-up crowd give a rapturous welcome to the Mancunian quartet, as it kicked off its third successive Leeds Fest appearance.
Immediately, you could see where the Goth reference came from, with Pale Waves singer and drummer both boasting better makeup than Robert Smith (and only slightly outdone by KISS), although guitarist and bassist balanced and contrasted the visuals nicely, both being floppy-haired pretty boys.
To my surprise, their sound was more reminiscent of polished ’70s and ’80s AOR than The Mission or Fields Of The Nephilim. Think Heart or Foreigner instead. Don’t hate me—I say it as I hear it—and it’s no bad thing anyway. After all, having a big, lush, melodic sound clearly hasn’t stopped the ‘Waves’ being edgy, hip young things and why should it?
Edgiest and hippest young thing of all, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her frontwoman and guitarist, Heather Baron-Gracie, has an impressive set of pipes. Her wide vocal range switches from breathy and fragile setting to bold and brassy mode in an instant—and never a dropped note in her studio-quality-standard delivery.
She makes great shapes too, when she sheds the guitar. Not many people can cut a rug like Heather can in Doc Martens and a mini skirt without looking ridiculous, but she pulls it off.
Playing to a crowd that obviously knew Pale Waves’ material better than I did, the audience sang along lustily unbidden, then with even more enthusiasm when invited to join in—roaring the lyrics back at the delighted band.
‘My Obsession’ was introduced as, “An EMO tune” and, while the lyrics were downbeat, the sounds were, again, more uplifting US-radio-station fare than misery fest. And again, no bad thing for me—or the ecstatic horde of music lovers in attendance.
‘Came In Close’, ‘Noises’ and ‘One More Time’ followed but the running order was pretty irrelevant as the songs were interchangeable, all sounding very much alike. Pale Waves’ audience rapport, fantastic vocals and highly polished band skills meant it really didn’t matter, though. You wanted more of the same; gear changes were neither desired nor requested.
This group is stadium-ready. All it needs in order to supernova now, is to secure the support slot on any rock titan’s next stateside tour and the airplay and viral buzz that will surely follow will do the rest.
Sometimes, perhaps, reviewers should just dispense with their forensic analysis of a performance and predictions of a glittering career ahead and simply say whether an act gave them pleasure or not.
Tonight, Pale Waves did, emphatically. End of.