Most would agree that it’s an understatement to say Paramore has radically transformed over the last decade and a half. Scene kids and edgy teens from the mid-2000s remember Hayley Williams and Co. mostly as the scrappy emo band behind smash hits like “Misery Business” and “Pressure,” yet – somewhere along the way – the band shifted members and shifted focus toward polished power pop. And honestly, it was the best decision they ever made.
But before Paramore could greet the sold-out crowd at The Forum in Inglewood, radio-hit wunderkinds Foster the People kept the stage warm with a moody, atmospheric approach to performing songs from their third record Sacred Hearts Club.
Frontman Mark Foster played it cool in a white suit when the audience became unglued at hearing the first few notes of songs like “Helena Beat” and “Don’t Stop.” I’ll admit I was surprised to hear – and felt a bit odd toward – “Pumped Up Kicks,” the catchy romp that undoubtedly made them famous, if only because of the song’s dark subject matter and uncomfortable forever timeliness. The pleasant inclusion of the Ramones’ cover “Blitzkrieg Bop” proved to be fun, and rounded out their set with hit after hit. Like Paramore after them, it’s clear that Foster the People aim to entertain first and foremost.
The moment Paramore took the stage, there was little doubt how far the band has come; they play like they’ve been filling out arenas for years – because they have. Their biggest sonic departure to date, 2017’s After Laughter is a technicolor record rye with new wave synth, catchy guitar hooks, and the poppiest vocals ever sung by Williams – and all that has perfectly translated to an incredible live show.
High-pitched screams and emotional cries couldn’t even drown out the sound of 80s synth and the electric energy in the air. With her long, curly blonde locks getting tossed to and fro, the 29-year-old frontwoman had no problem dancing across the stage in a red leotard, silky blouse, and orange heels. Williams’ energy was unrelenting, charismatic, and made me deeply ponder the kind of intensive workout regime she must endure. Despite the lights, the singing, and the dancing, I don’t think she showed a sign of sweating for the first 20 minutes of the show.
From the moment they opened with After Laughter’s “Grudges” and closed with their most recent mega hit “Hard Times,” Paramore never stopped providing a Performance. With a wall of giant screens and abstracted mirrors behind them capturing the unending breadth of the crowd in front of them, the band members each filled their role, landed their mark, and everything onstage had its place. Williams practically never remained still and strategic lights perfectly lit up the face of every member; each song was so precisely executed and each punchy line was paired with a dance move. Everything felt rehearsed, but everything looked great. Gone were the days of the scrappy punk band, and instead they were replaced with a Power Pop Machine.
Rock music has taken on several new faces over the years, sometimes getting erased entirely. Hell, halfway through their set, the band busted out a stripped-back acoustic cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit.” Paramore has redefined not only themselves, but what it means to put on a true pop performance. And that’s what will make them last and ultimately succeed.
There might be hardened naysayers, but there’s no doubt that Williams is working her ass off and still having fun. Paramore has never sounded better – even if they are a full fledged pop band now – and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
FOSTER THE PEOPLE: