As singer Hayley Williams reminded us somewhere between 12 and 176 times Tuesday night, Paramore's self-titled show at Bridgestone Arena was a homecoming.
To Nashville. Home. To Nashville, Tennessee.
And while we doubt she could see us up on the nosebleeding edge of the lower bowl, she kept saying we were a sight for sore eyes. We were mostly glad the snow missed us, which meant we wouldn't be skid-sledding home in our shiny metal box, but we were in for a solidly entertaining night of pop rock, too.
We caught about four songs (we think) of openers Hellogoodbye, who we had subconsciously filed away as being fellow run-ons Needtobreathe, and whose music we consciously filed away as "meh." For their final number, they fired off a sample of Hayley Williams' voice ("it feels so gooooooood") and acted like it was all 2006 with the dance-rock while the singer used his limbs to express what we can only call the unbearable whiteness of being.
At this point, the floor area was about half-full.
Next up were noted Canadians Metric. We had kind of assumed, in light of alarming recent reports, that millennials might not have heard of this band, but we were pleasantly disproved! All manner of young people could be observed singing along to the cautionary-cool "Synthetica," the murky-poignant "Breathing Underwater" and the majestic "Help I'm Alive." (On "Black Sheep," guitarist James Shaw doubled up the guitar riff in a way that reminded us of Liturgy's "Generation," if you're wondering how much American Black Metal-ness was in the air. Which is to say, a tiny bit.)
Singer Emily Haines, a vision in streaming gold fringe, captivating as ever, stalked the stage and somehow did The Running Woman pretty much the entire set — singing flawlessly and not at all like someone who looked like she was leading a Zumba class. We really dug hearing these songs, and Haines' voice in particular, with so much space to fly around in. When they closed with "Stadium Love" — with Haines urging the crowd, "Put your hands in the air like you just might care!" — their set felt over before it really got started.
And so did our beer. So after a break that separated us from another $11, we returned to our seats to find the arena filling up some more, if not quite to capacity. The empty space at the back had shrunk to roughly the size of Exit/In, which Williams name-dropped gratefully, alongside a mention of The End.
In one of his parting shots, former Paramore guitarist Josh Farro derided the band as a "manufactured product," which, has he ever used an iPhone? Or a car? Pretty great. Anyway, on this night Paramore seemed more 3D-printed than manufactured — custom built to rule a zone somewhere between the genre-hugging Warped Tour mainstay they started as and the outsized song- and personality-driven arena rockers they aspire to be but aren't quite yet. They charged onstage to a voluminous roar, opening with "Grow Up" — Williams' jacket had the phrase emblazoned across the back — as the curtain dropped to reveal a bank of vertical LED screens grouped to look like a giant Roman numeral III. They followed that up with a blast of power electronics to start "Fast in My Car."
Part of the template for becoming a plays-in-big-places band, for better and mostly worse, is using the middle of one of your popular songs to give a short speech and/or do something special/interactive. So when "Misery Business" — which incidentally felt almost primitive compared to the more pop-oriented new material — rolled around at the end of the main set, Williams brought up a fan to sing the bridge. This took a while to set up, as the band played a watered-down version of the chord progression endlessly.
(Side note: If this rock star thing doesn't pan out, Williams might have a career as a ring announcer, considering the way she got ready and rumbled, "We are Parrrrramoooooooorrrrrrrrrre!" on a couple of occasions.)
To prove she spans the generational divides, Williams at one point copped to "getting emo up here" and then accepted a phone from a fan so she could "take a selfie" with the crowd behind her. There was also a marriage proposal — she said yes! We think! We were really far away! — in the middle of "The Only Exception," which went on as hundreds of phone lamps bobbed in the stadium darkness.
There were ukulele interludes (helpfully illustrated by the word "INTERLUDE" in bright lights) and even that snippet of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" Paramore likes attaching to "In the Mourning." The band, backed by a three-piece rhythm section that included guitarist Taylor York's older brother, looked energized and loose. Some of the band's older material didn't play quite as well in the cavernous environs, feeling kind of busy and muddled. But the new stuff certainly reached the rafters. (Uptempo new-album cuts "Anklebiters" — max fist-pumping potential! — "Be Alone" and "Proof" were surprisingly absent from the set list.) The energy from the crowd was not lacking — during the massive balloon drop and orange confetti-cannon finale of "Still Into You," fans were leaping ecstatically from stage apron to arena's edge — and while the cynic in us could read all the "we're home, Nashville" talk as standard-issue city pandering, it came across as heartfelt, partly by virtue of its excessiveness.
In an interview this week, Williams said connecting with fans was crucial. "The perfect show to me is one that fills up the room and also makes the room feel like the biggest one you’ve ever been in, but also the smallest," she told Nashville Cream.
So can Paramore be this big a band? We're on our way to believing.