I Recommend Seeing Your Favorite Band Live 14 Times
11:56 AM EDT on May 31, 2023
I went to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night to see my favorite band in the world, Paramore.
Though the ravages of time have played a number on my memories, by my estimation, Tuesday's show made it 14 for me and Paramore. I first saw them at Revolution Live in Ft. Lauderdale back in 2007, shortly before the release of their second album, RIOT!, which would put them squarely on the map of whatever you want to define as "the scene." Since then, I have seen them in Miami and in New York, at basketball arenas, concert halls, and the dreaded Terminal 5. I even saw them at Radio City Music Hall, which violated one of my simplest rules (I never thought I'd see a Paramore show while seated), but which was great nonetheless.
Tuesday wasn't the first time I've seen Paramore at Madison Square Garden: I saw them at the same arena back in November of 2013. It was eerie but also affirming to see that after 10 years, the only real difference was that I am now too old and frail to really get into the center of the general admission section. Those 10 years have changed a lot for me, and for Paramore; the band has released three albums and lost their previous bassist, who then became a Soundcloud rapper (really!). Still, though, the trio of Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and Zac Farro, alongside their so-called Parafour quartet of touring musicians—Joey Howard, Logan MacKenzie, Joseph Mullen, and Brian Robert Jones—felt at home on the massive MSG stage on Tuesday.
Anyone who has seen a Paramore show knows what to expect as the band enters its 20th year in existence. Musically, the band is as tight as ever, and the live setting really elevated some of the weaker tracks from This Is Why, the band's sixth album that came out earlier this year. Set opener "You First" became an explosion, both metaphorically (after bobbing along respectfully to openers Genesis Owusu and Bloc Party, the crowd was ready and willing to scream and shout and dance on the first note from the headliners) and literally (there was confetti on the first song, a bold move). I am also more willing to put up with the clunky lyrics of "The News" when it's being blasted in my face at a whole lot of decibels.
It feels obvious to say this, but while the music is performed impeccably live, as it always has been, the star of a Paramore concert is Hayley Williams. The diminutive singer managed to fill every inch of the massive MSG stage, dancing and yelling and generally having more energy than I have ever had, and she's six months older than me. Her voice is a thunderbolt, too; while on the records, she always sounds great, it doesn't compare to hearing her belt out lyrics I've known for half my life in a live setting.
This is especially noticeable on some of the older songs that made the band's set list. "That's What You Get," from 2007's RIOT!, sounds less like the bratty mall-punk anthem that it was created to be and more like a world weary battlecry when heard live in 2023. "Decode," which came from the Twilight soundtrack but somehow managed to become one of the band's bigger hits, sounds fuller and bolder in person, with Williams having to really elevate her volume and panache to sing over, or just with, the crowd hanging on her every word. She was up to the challenge, of course. She always is.
The band has also grown into the world-beaters that they are now. While the 2013 show had some spectacle to it—there was a choir for "Ain't It Fun" and some fun lighting work—the 2023 edition of Paramore truly took advantage of playing at the so-called world's biggest arena. There were fireworks, and sparklers, and some form of rockets that reminded me more of professional wrestling than a concert. There was a secondary stage that elevated the main trio for mid-set breath-catching in the form of "Liar" and "Crystal Clear," the latter from Williams's 2020 solo album Petals For Armor. "The Only Exception," perhaps the softest Paramore hit and certainly the most earnest, became a bombastic ode to the staying power of love, following a pre-song speech from Williams about how it was written for someone who she had fallen in and out love with (her ex-husband).
If there was one moment that best exemplified the joyful community that Paramore has built around itself, it came during a song that the band had previously stopped playing altogether. "Misery Business" is the band's most recognizable hit, a venomous bit of late 2000s slut-shaming that nevertheless is a scorcher of a pop-punk song.
While the band's break from playing the song—explained mainly by Williams, who said that, well, they grew up and realized the lyrics are kind of shitty—is no more, Paramore has turned it into something more wholesome: Prior to the bridge of the song, Williams stops singing and begins to address the crowd, telling the thousands of people that one lucky fan will come up on stage to take on the role of Paramore's singer. On Tuesday, this was Bianca, who was hoisted on stage by security, hugged Williams something fierce, and then proceeded to absolutely dominate the bridge in front of, as Williams said, their new No. 1 fans. This bit of audience participation has become a staple in Paramore's arsenal, and it never fails to make me choke up a bit and definitely smile a lot.
Bands like Paramore mean so much to so many people of so many different ages, from a guy like me about to be in his mid-30s to the many teenagers who somehow knew all the words to songs that came out when they were likely toddlers. That "Misery Business" has gone from the band's calling card, to something they were ashamed of—and that's still there; Williams no longer sings the "once a whore, you're nothing more, I'm sorry, that'll never change" line, preferring to hold her mic out to the audience for it—to now the happiest part of the set.
I wouldn't say the 2023 show topped all my previous experiences seeing Paramore live, but strictly from a music standpoint, it did leave me feeling the happiest of any of them. Perhaps it was because I don't see as much live music as I used to, or perhaps it was because belting out "Hard Times" and "Rose-Colored Boy" and "Still Into You" will never get old, though I might. As the crowd on the floor filtered slowly out of the arena, singing along to MSG's speaker system playing "Ain't It Fun" along the way, and into the temperate spring night, I just wanted to tell everyone around me that Paramore is my favorite band and that they are the best band. I didn't need to, though; judging by everyone's tired smiles, they knew it too.