w/ Louis Prince
Grand Ole Opry House; Nashville, TN
February 6, 2023
Review by Philip Obenschain. Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
After a whirlwind last record cycle which saw them play special shows at Exit/In, The End, The Ryman, Bonnaroo, and even host their own festival at Municipal Auditorium, it’s hard to believe that it’s been four and half years since local alt rock icons Paramore last played a hometown concert (that aforementioned fest- Art + Friends- which provided a fitting and sentimental cap to a couple years of touring the globe). To be fair, three of those years have been consumed by a global pandemic, which forced so many artists to delay and cancel plans. But even without Covid, the last few years have been a well-earned break for the band, with vocalist Hayley Williams branching out with a pair of solo releases (though a would-be tour was a pandemic casualty) with production from guitarist and bandmate Taylor York, drummer and friend of the site Zac Farro continuing to make music as HalfNoise, and as a whole, the Paramore crew appearing to spend much of their time in Los Angeles, where they eventually wrote and recorded new album This Is Why– their first in six years after 2017’s blissful new wave and art pop inspired After Laughter– due out this Friday.
Though they formally sprung back to life late last year for a run of festival appearances and intimate club dates, Paramore’s Nashville homecoming last night at the Grand Ole Opry House– a one-off date in celebration of This Is Why– felt like the real start to their latest record cycle (or “era” as fans and the band often like to call it), and an electrifying beginning of the new year, boasting one of the most energized, earnest, and tight performances we’ve ever seen the band play (and we’ve seen some seriously special Paramore shows over the years). With an opening performance from local indie experimental project Louis Prince, it was yet another incredible night of memory-making from one of Nashville’s greatest and most-deserving modern musical success stories, and we were thrilled to be there once again to document it.
It’s always a cool experience to see concerts at the Opry House (which doesn’t host many events outside of its own Grand Ole Opry series), and as I arrived and grabbed my seat right before Louis Prince took the stage, it was awesome to see such a diverse and excited crowed filling the historic room (it’s always amusing too to see a lot of punks and emo kids in a venue usually filled with country-loving tourists). Louis Prince is a project that’s been on my radar for a few years, but I hadn’t had a chance to see them live. Helmed by Jake McMullen, the group features several Paramore friends and collaborators, making them a perfect fit to get this hometown show started. Their lush, layered, indie rock was a vibey and cool way to set the tone for the night, and with addition of jazzy wind instrumentals and the occasional auto-tuned vocal run, I got some Bon Iver vibes and dug their style even more in person.
After a quick changeover, it was time for the main event, and the excitement in the room was beyond palpable, with many fans having traveled in from all over the country to catch Paramore at home. The band- the trio of Williams, York, and Farro, along with a murders row’ of backing players in bassist Joey Howard, percussionist Joey Mullen, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Logan MacKenzie, and new guitarist and Vampire Weekend vet Brian Robert Jones- exploded onto the stage with new LP title track “This Is Why,” a frenetic and Covid-inspired tune which underscores the band’s return to their more rock-infused roots. Set against a bright and dynamic gigantic screen backdrop, the band were clearly having a blast from the jump, and as a nod to the Opry, Williams donned a rhinestoned, classic country style jumpsuit with a sequined “This Is Why” written on the back of her vest underneath.
Five (soon to be six) albums in, the band have a ton of beloved material to pick from, but given that this was something of a comeback show, they mostly stuck to the hits, delivering one of the more balanced and propulsive setlists I’ve seen them play, and eliciting big singalongs and excited cheers at the start of every song. Their first show in several months, it also marked their first time playing recent singles “C’est Comme Ça,” one of the standout tracks from This Is Why, and towards the end, “The News,” as well as the debut of a brand new, as-yet-unreleased track, “Running Out of Time,” during the encore, which stylistically seemed to be one of their biggest swings yet, and is a tune I can’t wait to hear the recorded version of.
The show’s most intimate moment- and one of its biggest surprises- came towards the middle, when the band left the stage and Hayley stepped into the spotlight alone with an acoustic guitar (something she has rarely done in public, which she admitted to being “scared shitless” to try, but had resolved to step out of her comfort zone) to perform early 2010s single “In the Mourning,” interpolated with a bit of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” After being visibly moved to tears by the evening’s most rapturous applause, she then tackled a cover of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” which, again, felt like a perfect nod to the Opry stage, and showcased some serious country pipes that asserted Williams’ unrivaled vocal talent in any setting (she and the whole group sounded as great as they ever have throughout the whole evening).
Not to let the mood get too overly serious though, the rest of the band returned to stage for their typical nightly cover of Zac Farro’s HalfNoise, but instead of simply hopping on the mic per usual, Farro came out seemingly possessed by the spirit of Garth Brooks, rocking a sequenced black country western outfit and cowboy hat, donning a headset mic, and encouraging crowd participation as he dove off of chairs, did splits and somersaults, and ran into the audience, all while singing his vibey tune “Boogie Juice.” I can confidently say I’ve never seen anything quite like it at a Paramore show, and it’s always a thrill to see the band having fun and not being afraid to be silly. The vibe of the last few years- particularly since Farro rejoined the group- has been Paramore simply being themselves and ignoring any expectations or outside pressure of what they should be or sound like, and I think their art (and, I’m sure, their mental health) has been better off for it.
After a night of career-spanning singles and new cuts, enduring Twilight classics and soulful singalongs, the main set ended with “Ain’t It Fun”- which especially soared with the Opry’s incredible acoustics- before an encore of “Caught in the Middle” and the aforementioned debut of “Running Out of Time.” Back at their last Nashville show in 2018, before playing their breakout 2007 single “Misery Business,” the band proclaimed that they intended to retire the tune- the lyrics of which had become scrutinized as problematic, and a song, I’m sure, the band feel like they’ve grown far beyond personally and musically. A new crop of fans, TikTok, and even Billie Eilish seemed to have other plans though, as “Miz Biz” was promptly added back into the group’s shows last fall, and which they’ve re-embraced as something their audience still wants to hear. And- as it has for many years- it still made for a killer, nostalgic, and career-capping way to end the night, complete with the tradition of grabbing a fan (this evening, one named Monica) from the audience to join Williams in belting out the fan-favorite hit.
It’s true of all Paramore shows, but especially the ones in Nashville, that the band seem especially connected to and appreciative of their audience, something that extends way back to the LiveJournal and MySpace days. So many times throughout the evening, Williams expressed such a deep gratitude towards the fans, for sticking around so long, for giving them the space to take such a long break between records and still showing up when they returned, for being so supportive of their new artistic directions, and for allowing her and the band to be vulnerable, especially in the soul-searching and breakup navigating and musical identity reevaluating sad-happy catharsis that is After Laughter, or the Covid insolation-fueled, anger and confusion and frustration at the socio-political state of the world that seemed to inspire This Is Why.
They’ve been scrappy emo scene breakouts, chart-topping and Grammy winning rockstars, and maturing musicians using their platform to examine what they really want to say and how they want to express it, uninhibited from external pressure. But at the start of things, Paramore were just a group of friends in a basement. And now, with that DIY spirit still intact, a lineup that just works, and fans who will accept them for whoever they want to be, Paramore feel like that band more than ever; making art for art’s sake and keeping the group alive not because they feel obligated to, but because it’s still, after all this time, such a sincere and malleable outlet of expression, which they’ve been able to organically reinvent with each fantastic new release. This Is Why arrives as the trio settle into their 30s and navigate how to make music in a world dramatically different than it was just a few short years ago, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off this new chapter than with such a resonant and meaningful reminder of where they came from as this Opry performance.
See Paramore on the road throughout the spring at summer and at festivals like Bonnaroo, and stream This Is Why everywhere on Friday!
Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
This Is Why
C’est Comme Ça
That’s What You Get
Still Into You
Brick by Boring Brick
I Caught Myself
In the Mourning
You Ain’t Woman Enough(Loretta Lynn cover)
Boogie Juice (HalfNoise cover)
Told You So
Ain’t It Fun
Caught in the Middle
Running Out of Time