Community, Camaraderie, and Sentiment Ran High, as Paramore Said Goodbye to ‘After Laughter’ with Epic Hometown Celebration Art + Friends

Paramore_Art+Friends-Header

Paramore
w/ Coin, Bully, Canon Blue, Liza Anne, Nightingail

Nashville Municipal Auditorium; Nashville, TN
September 7, 2018

Review by Philip Obenschain (@pobenschain). Photos by Roxy Moure.

On Friday, at Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Music City’s biggest rock band, Paramore, hosted, headlined, and curated a mini day fest called Art + Friends, a loveletter to their hometown and an end of tour celebration, featuring performances from locals COINBullyCanon BlueLiza Anne, and Nightingail. A fitting, emotional, celebratory, communal, and reflective end to one of the most challenging, transformative, important, and, ultimately, triumphant periods of personal and professional transition in the band’s 15 year history, the show was a perfect finale to a journey that began in the spring of 2017 at Exit/In, a chapter marker that concludes the cycle for last year’s stellar After Laughter, and the start of a break that, for once, feels like an incredibly optimistic point in Paramore’s existence, and one with endless possibilities for where things could go next. Of course, we had to be there to bid the group farewell (for now), and to dance and cry and celebrate After Laughter one more time, in a room full of so many people who’ve helped Paramore persevere, endure, and flourish along the way. Needless to say, it was every bit the transcendent and emotional night we expected, and you can read all about it below!

I’ve spent more time writing about Paramore this record cycle than I typically do for any other band, and that’s largely because they’ve been more rooted at home these past couple of years than at any other point in their career, save perhaps for their earliest days. Formed in Franklin and essentially based in the area ever since, After Laughter saw, for the first time in five full-lengths, the group fully write and record in town, plot more shows and special events in Nashville than ever before (including their return to stage with a semi-secret Exit/In outing), and support the local scene more vocally than ever along the way. Art + Friends was a natural extension of that; a way to celebrate their community, give local artists a bigger platform, and to plug the businesses, creations, and organizations of their friends.

Utilizing the venue’s circular shape, the lobby was full of art installations, an audio visual demonstration room, booths for record labels and nonprofits, a mini popup of Paramore-approved selections from local record shop Grimey’s, singer Hayley Williams’ hair dye line, Good Dye Young, set up with a booth and live demonstrations, and much more. I knew all of this would be on site beforehand, but I was nonetheless impressed with how much it reminded me a of true festival vibe, a bustling little mini market where everywhere you looked was something fascinating to see or learn about or buy. In the main room, of course, the show was set on the auditorium’s stage, with each opener playing fairly concise sets with quick changeovers, allowing for a ton of music with an easy, late afternoon start (and, creatively, utilizing Paramore’s tiered-screen stage to provide performer information between sets).

Nightingail_Art+Friends-InsertNightingail. Photo by Roxy Moure.

I arrived just as Nightingail began to play, impressed with the enthusiastic and growing early crowd as I filed into my seat. The live alias of folky, indie Memphis transplant Alicia Gail, it had been about a year since I last saw her play, at one of our final weekly Acme showcases, and I was curious to see such an intimate sound scale. With her mellow, hypnotic, and soulful sound and incredibly powerful voice, I was instantly struck by how effectively Nightingail and her great backing band managed to fill up a room so large, and though her music might have been the most rootsy and soft of any of the evening’s performers, it nonetheless provided an earnest, thoughtful, and reflective start to a great evening of diverse music.

LizaAnne_Art+Friends-InsertLiza Anne. Photo by Roxy Moure.

After a quick change (during which I wandered around the lobby a bit more), her name flashed onto the screens above, rising indie rocker Liza Anne and her band took the stage, donning their signature coordinated attire. Though her earlier work was a bit more intimate and folky, Liza’s latest, this year’s phenomenal third effort, Fine But Dying, takes on a more anthemic, poppy, indie rock bite, not a far-shot from where Paramore’s sound has headed, which seemed like a natural fit. I’ve seen Liza a few times before, but never with so much magnetism and gusto; from note one, she commanded the room, rocking out with a lean set, interjecting endearing and witty commentary, and generally feeling incredibly well-suited for the big stage. Liza is, without a doubt, one of Nashville’s best and most essential rising talents, and hearing songs like “Paranoia” and “Panic Attack,” earnest as they are resonant, fill up an arena, made me more confident than ever that she’s destined for huge things.

CanonBlue_Art+Friends-InsertCanon Blue. Photo by Roxy Moure.

An artist we’ve been following since our beginnings, and one of the earliest guests on the first incarnation of our podcast, Canon Blue has long been a local favorite, as well as a friend and collaborator of Paramore. If you dig the lush, orchestral sound of early HalfNoise, you have Canon Blue frontman and producer Daniel James to thank, and though his solo records have been fairly spaced apart over the years, each has been stunning and criminally underrated, including last year’s amazing Lasso Yo. It’d been at least three years or so since I last saw him play, and I was looking forward to hearing the new stuff, and to see how James’ show had evolved. Bathed in low, moody light, and backed by an orchestral string section, this was above and beyond the best Canon Blue show I’ve ever seen, taking cues from dense, high-art acts like Radiohead and Sigur Rós in his stunning presentation and delivery. At the end of a hypnotic and all too short set, James invited Paramore guitarist Taylor York out for a song, musing that York had played guitar for the first Canon Blue show ever, well over a decade ago at The End. This, of course, was met with a huge enthusiastic response, but Canon Blue didn’t need the help of a special guest to deliver one of the most impressive and compelling performances of the night.

Bully_Art+Friends-InsertBully. Photo by Roxy Moure.

If I had been tasked with putting together the Art + Friends lineup (a daunting prospect, to say the least), there’s one band I know for sure I would have circled first on the list: Bully. Nashville’s preeminent punk-spirited grunge pop act, the group have seen an impressive rise in just a few short years, leaping from DIY origins and analog self-recording to nab a major label deal ahead of their debut, and a spot on beloved indie Sub Pop before last year’s followup, Losing. I’ve seen Bully everywhere from scrappy house shows to major festival stages, so I had no doubt their hard-hitting, raw, retro grunge sound would work well in a venue so big. Certainly the loudest and most overtly punk band of the night, the local rockers sounded absolutely explosive, caked in beams of moody light, their stage decorated with a glowing ice cream cone. I’m sure some fans who came in green to the openers might have been a bit caught off guard by the intensity, but many in the standing area were clearly loving it, jumping around, getting rowdy, and screaming along. With pretty concise song lengths, Bully aren’t known for playing super long sets, so their Art + Friends slot seemed to amount to a full show, ending, as they often do, with a ferocious cover of PJ Harvey’s “Snake,” where singer Alicia Bognanno got to drop her guitar and get close to the crowd. Already four sets in, the show seemed to be flying by, and with one of their best local performances yet, Bully gave me the jolt of adrenaline needed to coast for the next few hours.

Coin_Art+Friends-InsertCOIN. Photo by Roxy Moure.

Rounding out the supporting lineup, it’s still kind of wild for me to see how huge COIN have become. I still remember them, just a few years ago, as a little Belmont band with a lot of promise, hitting cool early milestones like selling out Mercy Lounge and Exit/In for the first time. Since then, they’ve released two LPs, scored radio hits, and toured the world with huge bands like The 1975, so there’s no question they deserved this covered slot. After seeing them rock recent festivals, I already knew their huge, poppy, dance-primed sound would be electrifying in a big space, and, of course, gigantic jams like “Talk Too Much,” “I Don’t Wanna Dance,” and “Run” elicited screams and dancing and loud singalongs. In fact, until Paramore, the audience seemed to be polite and engaged, but not fanatic over any of the other performers, but with COIN I saw fans running to the front, snapping endless photos, clearly familiar and legitimately going wild; such a cool and well-deserved accomplishment for another great local indie group. I’ve probably said this the last few times I’ve covered COIN in a bigger space, but the thing that really strikes me now is just how polished and comfortable they’ve become as performers, effectively working the crowd, flawlessly delivering their material, and scaling their sound to meet any audience. The perfect primer to the night’s main attraction, by the time the guys stepped off the stage, the room was its most packed and buzzing with eager anticipation.

Paramore_Art+Friends-Insert1Paramore. Photo by Roxy Moure.

I’ve seen Paramore a handful of times over the years (dating back to maybe ’05 or so), but never as frequently as the past 16 months, where I’ve managed to catch them at home at Exit/In and at The Ryman, nearby for their Bonnaroo debut, and in Chicago last fall for Riot Fest. You’d think show five on a record cycle would have some sense of predictably or rehash, but not so for this band, who’ve cleverly compartmentalized and numbered their recent tours, each with a newly thought out set and production, making every show (particularly the festival and special appearances), wholly unique and memorable, and all a cool mile-marker and contrast from eras and tours in years past.

Knowing this would be their last performance for awhile, having been present at the first, and after conducting a personal and reflective interview with Hayley Williams ahead of it, I was feeling extra sentimental going in, and incredibly grateful and proud of a band so ingrained in and enthusiastic about their home to have chosen to honor it with a celebration like this. Clearly feeling overwhelmingly sentimental as well, the importance and special nature of the evening was only stoked and fostered by the band, who from the moment they stepped on stage, opening with newer tune “Grudges” (the first time I’d heard them play it, though it’s been a part of a recent tour sets), seemed to cherish and hold dear every second of the experience. The crowd, too, seemed even more intent and invested than usual all night; whether your first time or latest of many, a Paramore show always feel like a tight-knight affair, and this evening, especially, was brimming with love and friendship and community.

Looking especially cool- which is a given for Paramore, but still, every aspect of their show and presentation is carefully thought out- I don’t think I’ve seen the band play with this much passion, earnestness, or exuberance at any show this cycle (all of which have been stellar), as if knowing this was the grand finale before a well-earned breather meant they could let out every ounce of energy and heart they’ve been saving. Alternating between AL tunes and older cuts, the band’s first block of songs was nearly career-spanning, including favorites like “That’s What You Get,” “Ignorance,” and “Still Into to You” (notably, nothing from debut All We Know Is Falling made the list, and that’s totally fine 13 years and a lifetime later), and impassioned new tunes like “Rose-Colored Boy” and “Fake Happy,” Williams pausing often between to get sentimental, make quips, and express a genuine gratitude for the band’s incredible fans and for the support and love from the community that has long fostered them.

Paramore_Art+Friends-Insert2Paramore. Photo by Roxy Moure.

This was my first time seeing the production of this particular tour leg (the only other 2018 show I caught was Bonnaroo, a surely adapted version of their staging), and though the spectacle and flashiness of their giant light-wheel of last year was a bit missed (I’m still amazed they managed to squeeze that thing onto The Ryman stage), the choice to split LED screens into tiered pieces behind and above the stage, interspersed with lights, made for a really cool and dynamic effect. You could put Paramore on an empty stage and they’d be more than capable of carrying a show with their musicianship alone, but thanks to a fantastic (and largely local) crew of lightning and sound techs, stylists and designers, the experience of seeing them live is one that’s always incredibly elevated, their team managing to capture the essence and expression of any one singular period of the group’s art and existence with each new run.

After a short act break (with a “we’ll be right back” message flashed on their screens), the band returned to play a stripped-down mini set, filed into the front of the stage in a line, up close and personal, armed with a variety of acoustic and percussive instruments. Beginning with a cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit” (a recent staple of their shows and a very cool track to hear them tackle), things quickly got more intimate with 2009 tune “Misguided Ghosts,” then “26,” perhaps the most sad and personal song from After Laughter, backed by gorgeous string accompaniment from members of Canon Blue’s band. During this set break, Williams took the time to make band introductions (far beyond the core three, Paramore’s live players have become a tight-knit group this tour), one of many thankful and reflective and heartfelt interactions of the evening. A beautiful and calming interlude, after briefly exiting the stage once more, the show picked back up with full energy, beginning with dance-worthy new jam “Caught in the Middle,” setting the tone for an upbeat final stretch.

If you’ve seen any headlines this week about Paramore, it’s likely they were in reference to the retiring of “Misery Business.” I don’t feel the need to dive too deep into that revelation (in case you don’t know, the song, despite being their first major hit, has some themes and language that feel awkward to Paramore’s more socially aware, adult sensibilities), other than to say: great, it’s time. As musicians and as people, Paramore have grown so far beyond that song, and whether or not they play it again (problematic lyrics aside), to want for them to be beholden to something from so long ago is to claim ownership to their music and your own nostalgia, without considering them as people and artists who change and grow with time (you wouldn’t want to be forever associated with your greatest high school accomplishment, right?). They definitely sent it off properly, though, inviting three instead of the typical one guest vocalist picked from the crowd to give it one last epic singalong.

Paramore_Art+Friends-Insert3Paramore. Photo by Roxy Moure.

By the end of the final stretch of tunes, which included an especially intense rendition of “Idle Worship,” a mega singalong of “Ain’t It Fun” (a far superior candidate for enduring single than “Misery Business,” in my opinion), and more, the stage was stripped down and a keyboard brought out for guitarist Taylor York, as Williams took a moment to reminisce on this tour cycle and album, the camaraderie of the band, the return of drummer Zac Farro, and the important period of transition and growth in their lives, something they credit Nashville as being an integral part of. Noting there was one song they still needed to play to send off After Laughter properly, Hayley introduced “Tell Me How,” the album closer she’d told me just days before she can’t even listen to all the way though without breaking down, much less play live. It’s a gut-wrenching and beautiful song, and knowing how incredibly difficult it was to perform only made the moment all the more powerful and intimate, to see the singer connect and be vulnerable in a such an open, emotional, and public way. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting closer, and the whole room seemed moved and enveloped in the resonance of that moment.

Of course, after surely wiping away a few tears and regrouping, the band came back for an encore, which, in what was surely an intentional move, included the very first two songs from After Laughter that they debuted at their Exit/In opener last year, sandwiched between not one, but two Zac Farro fronted covers of his solo project HalfNoise (the more recent groovy jam “All That Love Is,” and fan-favorite “Scooby’s in the Back,” which also became something of a Paramore tradition stemming from that Exit/In show). Ending, of course, with the song that started it all, “Hard Times,” I was moved by the cyclical nature of this whole era, as the very last song performed was the very first upon their return to stage last year. It’s things like that that set Paramore apart from other big rock acts- they’re not just playing what’s strategic or popular, but what’s meaningful and important to themselves and their fans, a band who, 15 years and five albums in, still exist for all the right reasons, as fans themselves and as mindful, always enduring creatives looking for an honest means of expression.

Few bands have become so successful and managed to hold home so dear, and even fewer retain such an element of exploration and community and thirst for progressing their art 15 years into a flourishing career. As I’ve said before, Paramore feel like a little local band who never stopped making music for the love of it, and whether they’re playing it in arenas or had never made it past the York family’s basement, I don’t think anything would be different about the love and honesty and consideration that fuels what they do. Nashville’s so fortunate to have a band like this call our city home, and though we didn’t need Art + Friends to know how much Paramore value this place, I’m so thankful they chose to host it. A fitting farewell, but certainly not goodbye, when Paramore choose to return, it’ll be in their most tight-knit, at peace, and community-focused form ever; and I can’t wait.

Setlist

Grudges
Still Into You
Rose-Colored Boy
That’s What You Get
Crushcrushcrush
Fake Happy
Forgiveness
Ignorance
Pool
Passionfruit (Drake cover)
Misguided Ghosts
26
Caught in the Middle
Idle Worship
No Friend
Misery Business
Ain’t It Fun
Tell Me How

Told You So
All That Love Is (HalfNoise cover)
Scooby’s in the Back (HalfNoise cover)
Hard Times

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