Pale Waves produces good concert, but rings shallow

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The audience at Rickshaw Stop was dressed in a similar style to Pale Waves; the dominant fashion trends of the night were dyed hair, dark lipstick and black X’s on the back of hands. It was a markedly young crowd there was never a wait at the bar, as most of the audience was comprised of high school kids. The eager fans lined up around the block, well before the call for doors, and bustled with anticipation for the Manchester-based group.

But was it worth the wait?

Pale Waves’ fusion of pop music and goth fashion resulted in a bizarre, albeit energetic, combination. It is easy to spot one of the band’s major musical influences — The Cure. From front-woman Heather Baron-Gracie’s style to the bright and catchy guitar riffs from songs such as “There’s a Honey,” the band pays an homage to The Cure’s sonic and aesthetic essence. Pale Waves even has a track titled “Heavenly,” which might be the most obvious of references — the similarly named “Just Like Heaven” happens to be one of The Cure’s more iconic songs.

Pale Waves has also gotten recent attention for collaborating with Matthew “Matty” Healy, frontman of The 1975. Although Healy only produced Pale Waves’ latest singles, his musical influence can definitely be detected. One of Pale Wave’s latest tracks, “New Year’s Eve,” rings with a certain familiarity. This combination of musical influences is compelling and certainly noticeable when Pale Waves took the stage.

They certainly took their time about it.

After a brief opening set by The Candescents, the fans waited impatiently. Misplaced whoops and claps would erupt each time a staff member would innocently walk across the stage. Finally, after a suspenseful half-hour of buildup, Pale Waves dramatically took the stage.

It is undeniable that Baron-Gracie commands the attention of the room. With a striking coffin-shaped guitar, heavy eyeliner and an all-black ensemble, it’s hard not to. To accentuate her bold fashion, Baron-Gracie makes repeated use of a few signature dance moves. She would periodically shake her hair up and down like a pom-pom and suspend her arms like a disembodied marionette without strings.

Most of Pale Waves’ song are upbeat, and the audience was all too happy to reciprocate the energy, yet Baron-Gracie could have done more to leverage Rickshaw Stop’s intimate atmosphere. A relatively modest venue, Rickshaw Stop offers ample opportunity to interact with the audience — it’s common for opening bands to mull around and talk with fans between sets.

Conversely, Baron-Gracie made only reserved attempts to forge connections with her audience. She heralded her third song with a direct question— “Who wants to hear a song about sex?” This abrupt question drew squeals and laughs from the audience in equal measures, but it was one of the only moments of the night that Pale Waves seemed to truly connect with its fans.

Pale Waves at times seemed less like an homage to The Cure, and more like a watered-down version of it. Perhaps the novelty of combining goth and pop simply has worn off, but it seems to be more than that. The songs themselves, while undeniably catchy, seem to lack the melancholy and depth that would necessitate Baron-Gracie’s extreme style.

For example, “Television Romance,” one of the band’s more popular singles, focuses upon the struggle of an unsuccessful relationship. The chorus makes this clear with lyrics such as, “Oh, baby, won’t you stop it / You and I haven’t got it, got it / Television romance.” In “Television Romance” it is clear that the relationship isn’t working because it’s too superficial —  there’s a lack of authenticity that ultimately undermines a potential romance.

Unfortunately, this same principle of artificiality can be applied to Pale Waves themselves.

An emphasis on aesthetics over musicality is a common complaint about the pop genre, but this seems particularly applicable in Pale Waves’ case. The songs are catchy, and the band members are fun to look at, but there is a noticeable lack of heart. However, that didn’t stop the audience from having a good time. Pale Waves may not deliver originality, but their performance still pleased their devoted audience. Whether its performance was sincere enough to capture new fans still remains to be seen. 

Contact Sarah Alford at [email protected].