Pale Waves @ The O2 Academy, March 5th, 2022

In a sticky-floored neoclassical theatre, I find myself moshing alongside an absurd melange of middle-aged couples with pierced eyebrows, pre-adolescents in death-metal merch and a handful of self-conscious chaperones. To call the crowd attending Pale Waves at the O2 Academy ‘eclectic’ would be an egregious understatement. Whilst most of the night went as expected – a fan-favourite setlist, a ‘here we fucking go’ or two, and an assemblage of post-scene-era teenagers – there was an endearing quality to the mood created when frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie glided onstage to decibel-busting screams. Concerts are notorious for mingling companies from all corners of the world, with the common denominator of a similar taste in tunes, and the audacious number of mosh-pits that swept me up over the four-hour set sure demonstrated that concept.

Warming up the crowd were cold-war-chic Bitters (leatherettes with silver hardware and berets) and the bratty Hot Milk (elevating emo rock to new planes, with lyrics like ‘I just wanna know what happens when I’m dead’), with timeless pop-punk-pleasers and heavy indie-rock originals that teased the audience into energetic agitation. Contrary to these fun-loving thrashers, Pale Waves’ entrance saw a kind of sacrosanct silence sweep through the audience. High, choral pitches washed over the main act as they floated onstage, with Baron-Gracie bathed in a pale heavenly glow and framed with butterfly wings. The ambience was appropriate; I got the impression that many attendees were hardcore fans, verging on disciples. One devotee keenly reeled off Pale Waves’ entire discography to me, Genius-verbatim, in the way that only a stan could.

The 1975’s influence was undeniable, in that iconic Tumblr-era brand of peppy, anthemic heartbreak ballad. Riddled with bright synths, voice breaks that would have Matty Healy weeping with pride, and drums that melded acoustic and house-machine to create punchy, clean rhythms, the sound was married with neon visuals and a concomitant 2016 Hot-Topic image. The audience lapped it up, and it was admittedly tricky to resist bouncing along to the driving hooks and zippy electronica anti-love songs. The band dressed in dark tones and exuded a coolly untouchable air, however their selfsame (and spirited) tunes thrummed with bright pulses of synth and a thudding kick that could be felt through the floorboards alongside the audience’s feverish energy, creating a symbiotic atmosphere in which both buoyed the other up. In one word; electric.

To Pale Waves’ credit, they replicated their sparkly sound flawlessly onstage. They played a snappy set of perfected pieces instead of overcomplicating with ambitious theatrics, and in the flood of pink pixie cuts, gangly teenage limbs and the odd geriatric zealot, an interactive audience experience was evinced. One particularly talented (and ballsy) teenage fan was actually invited up to drum in Ciara Doran’s stead, just for giggles. Even the bar-staff were joining hands with the wino-mothers to twirl each other around.

As the set progressed, I found it harder to distinguish between songs; each one with similar structures, synthetic sounds and subject matters. As a non-die-hard, I struggled working up the energy to dance when I could’ve sworn that I’d moshed to the same song not ten minutes before. 

The encore concluded the set on a neat sum-up of the teenage audiences’ mutual feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy; actually, rather reassuring when felt in conjunction with others. ‘I would give you my love’, Baron-Gracie howled, ‘but I’m not sure that you want me.’ At least you know for sure, Pale Waves, that Glasgow certainly does.

[Naomi Maeve – she/her]

[Photo credits: Barry Douglas – he/him]

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