The question prompted by this year’s remarkably underwhelming array of (repeat) Lolla headliners (including The Killers, Vampire Weekend and Mumford and Sons) was, “Where are all the headliner-caliber rock bands that have never played Lolla and, you know, are actually good?”
At Thursday's sold-out Chicago Theatre show, Paramore had the answer. Tiny Hayley Williams is leading a giant revolution, shooting sweet darts into the hearts and lungs of fans that belt out every cathartic word. (“Chicago, you’re making us blush up here,” the singer said in response to the extremely enthusiastic crowd.) At times the 24-year-old Williams, whose half-orange, half-pink hair mirrors the band’s aggression underscored by vulnerability, barely needed to sing, and she knew when to let the fans have their moment: During “Now,” a fantastic track from the band’s terrific, chart-topping new album, Williams wailed, “If there’s a future, we want it” and let the young crowd howl “Now!” If that’s not an anthem for a generation, I don’t know what is.
Expanded to a sextet on stage, the Tennessee trio represents the rare female-fronted rock band whose dynamic presence out front blends perfectly with the equally effective music behind her. (Don’t get me started on some of the new No Doubt stuff.) Paramore is just flat-out fun.
During the 95-minute set, seamless transitions between albums highlighted the depth and catchiness of the group’s catalog—among many highlights, “Misery Business,” “Looking Up” and “Whoa” were particular standouts—while sampling intelligently from the new self-titled record, which only gets better on repeat listens. The audience happily filled in for the gospel choir on “Ain’t It Fun,” while a handful of members selected from the masses happily sang “Anklebiters” on stage as Williams encouraged everyone in the venue to dismiss self-consciousness and party in a safe, judgment-free space.
In fact, Williams’ voice isn’t extraordinary, and she’s exposed in ballads like the just-OK “The Only Exception.” The show’s energy also dipped on the rare occasion she just stood at the mic and sang, as she did on “Let the Flames Begin.” Otherwise, Paramore played with force and focus, making good use of lights, background video and streamers/confetti falling from the ceiling. Not that they needed it—with material this solid and a fanbase this passionate, the “Looking Up” refrain of “We’re just getting started” still sounds true four years later.
As for the 40-minute opening set by L.A. dance-rockers Kitten, I can’t wait until their writing catches up with their performance. Singer Chloe Chaidez is explosive and even aggressive, her antics ranging from spontaneously sitting on an unwitting security guard’s shoulders to frequently smacking the backing musicians cranking out songs that sometimes sound like the Joy Formidable bowing to the ‘80s and losing the hooks during their trip back. With the 18-year-old Chaidez’s enormous voice and massive presence, though—I’m sure I’m not the only one who got sweat in the eye during her sprint from the back of the room back to the stage—it almost doesn’t matter. (Now’s an apt time to note how little 20-year-old Selena Gomez delivers in the vocal and performance categories, BTW.) In a more intimate club space, where mood can better compensate for music’s lack of urgency, Kitten would absolutely kill.
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