Paramore + Kitten - Hammerstein Ballroom - 5/16/13
|Photo: Ian Collins|
Better Than: Anything J.J. Abrams has done in 2013
Before seeing Paramore tonight, I went to the movies with my best friend. We're both huge sci-fi/fantasy dweebs, so we, of course, had seen the new Star Trek movie on its opening day. The movie was decent, not great, but of course, we loved it anyway; I suspect most audiences will feel the same. At dinner afterwards, we got to talking about all these superhero/sci-fi reboot flicks, the ones that keep making a bazillion dollars despite so many blatantly cornball situations that would've never flown a few years ago. The reason movies like the Star Trek reboots (as well as other over-the-top adaptations like Watchmen, The Avengers and even the ludicrous Thor) are doing so well, I suggested, is that outside the theatres, everything is shit: for women and their bodies, for immigrants and their families, for gays and their partners, for the 99% and their savings -- the list goes on, and on, and on. People are miserable, and when the world feels at its most hopeless, we are at our most willing to suspend our disbelief (and open our wallets) for a few hours of saccharine, studio-slick entertainment. This, in my opinion, is a bittersweet blessing.
Hope you'll excuse the extended metaphor, but that's all I could think about last night while watching Paramore and their labelmate opener, Kitten, lay waste to a beatific, never-say-die crowd at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Over the past eight years, Hayley Williams (and whatever set of band members she's rolling with) has been gaining a curious momentum, one that has defied most expectations of the world in which she's grown. The band has skip-hopped its way from pop punk's precious embrace to mainstream pop stardom in a way most (read: everyone except maybe Fall Out Boy) artists from that scene could only dream: with the financial backing of a major label, a consistently expanding fan base, and their cool image still fully intact, despite multiple shakeups that, within the past two years, have literally redefined them. Their new, eponymous fourth record is an unabashedly candid pop confessional. Its cast of characters (Williams, jilted ex-Paramore bandmates Zac and Josh Farro, Williams' long-time boyfriend/New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert) is cozily familiar, its melodies their catchiest yet, and a veritable truckload of money was poured into its production, which makes it -- much like The Avengers, et al. -- an utterly irresistible, if a little exploitative, masterpiece.
Oh, right, the actual show. Kitten's is a weird opening set to behold. The Los Angeles quintet's performance is polished and built to blow minds; frontwoman Chloe Chaidez's energy knows no boundaries as she springs and headbangs and handstands her way back and forth across the stage, scaling crowd barricades and amp towers alike in ostentatious rebellion as she howls and sighs. (This girl is 18 years old, by the way.) Still, they're oddly too good. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the new-wave-y outfit has been over-nurtured by a major label, and it shows. Atlantic had to have had the Paramore blueprint in mind when they found and signed Kitten -- a powerhouse female vocalist backed by a handful of decent (and likely disposable) male instrumentalists -- but the difference is that when they signed Paramore, they were getting something they didn't know they wanted as much as they did. There was nothing like Paramore in 2005; Kitten fits a predetermined bill now, and thus has been provided too many means to fulfill that expectation.
This is how it works. It's hardly the band's fault, but their 110% effort, paired with the kind of obscenely orchestrated light show usually reserved for headliners who've at least broken the Top 10, while entertaining, also seems inorganic and stagnant. There's something of that over-the-top, glossy-yet-cornball superhero movie air about them, too. Kitten's songs are not fantastic, despite Chaidez's herculean delivery, but boy, do they sound fantastic in the HD IMAX theatre that is the Hammerstein Ballroom. (For the same reason a hokey adaptation like Thor is way less fun on a small screen, though, I have a hard time grasping their distinctiveness beyond the arena.) Can a band find anything to strive for when its glory is handed to them at the gate? When they howl, can they mean it? Have they had the time and the space to figure out what, for Kitten, "it" even is?
I say this because when Paramore was touring their debut, they, too, must have been afforded some luxury -- at least Hayley, signed solo to Atlantic for two years prior, must have -- yet there was something more honest and mobile about their performances, even then. Maybe it was thanks to the "authenticity" provided by Fueled by Ramen, Atlantic's "indie" label-slash-superstar breeder, or maybe it was just a simpler time: when Williams hopped around onstage at Warped Tour, you got the impression she was out-of-her-mind excited and also a little in disbelief of her growing fame. At 16, she was one of us, not a rock goddess.