Pale Waves are a four-piece band, hailing from Manchester, mentored by the highly revered indie-rock band The 1975. I remember when I first discovered Pale Waves’ music; I was listening to 80’s new wave bands like The Cure on YouTube when I saw the thumbnail for their song “Television Romance” as a recommended video. The picture was of a woman with short black hair, dark grungy makeup and gothic attire (which I later learnt was the lead singer, Heather Baron Gracie). I prayed that their music would be just as captivating as their style.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but felt that it was safe to assume that their music would be slow, melancholy dark wave, similar to that of bands like Lebanon Hanover. Instead what I heard was something completely different. I was beguiled by how they had blended dark atmospherics with pure synth pop. Pale Waves are clearly the sort of band who delight in subverting expectations.
I was surprised to hear their announcement of the ‘DIY Class of 2018 Tour’ so early on. At the time of the announcement they had only released three songs: ‘New Year’s Eve’, ‘Television Romance’ and ‘There’s a Honey’. It seemed like a risky move to go on tour before releasing the full album ‘All the Things I Never Said’, however, I could tell from those three songs alone that I was going to like whatever else they produced so I bought myself a ticket.
Given the sudden surge in their popularity with the release of ‘Television Romance’ gaining them over 4 million views on YouTube, I was surprised and extremely excited to hear they were coming to a small, local venue: The Westgarth Social Club.
On the day of the concert I bagged myself a spot at the very front of the stage on the left-hand side so I would be directly in front of their keyboardist/guitarist Hugo Silvani. The full line-up for that night was Bloxx, Our Girl, and headliners Pale Waves, with all three of the bands being fronted by women.
Bloxx kicked off the evening’s proceedings including a mix of released and unreleased music in their set. Standouts from this band were their angst-filled song ‘Coke’ and exuberant ‘Your Boyfriend’. Their latest single ‘Novocain’ even had people dancing. This was impressive for any support act as I’ve often seen situations where the bands are booed from the stage. It was a pleasant change to see a crowd enjoying a lesser-known band so much.
Brighton rock band, Our Girl, were up next and opened their set with ‘Being Around’. I have to admit I thought they were extremely talented and I thoroughly enjoyed the lead singer Soph Nathan’s hypnotic and heartfelt vocals. After this second stellar act the stage was prepared for the band we had all been waiting for – Pale Waves!
I was in awe of Heather Baron Gracie’s outfit, she was sporting a leather jacket, blue checked trousers and creeper shoes, and played what looked like an almost coffin-shaped guitar. The audience also seemed to be in deep admiration of her.
Ciara Doran’s punchy snare leads us into their debut single ‘Television Romance’ as the opener, occasionally drowned out by the rapturous audience as everyone sang along. This was followed by their upbeat number ‘The Tide’. Although this track had only been released a couple of weeks prior to the gig everyone knew it well from their older demo before it was reinvented with more catchy, twinkly riffs for their EP.
The fans couldn’t get enough of Heather’s eye-rolls and puppet-like vogueing but there is still a freshness and vulnerability to her. Her vocals soar over the power ballad ‘My Obsession’. This was my favourite song from their set; its emotional lyrics cut deep. The song deals with the darker aspects of love using romantic, yearning lyrics like ‘You’ll always be my favourite obsession’ and ‘I’ll die by your side if you want me to’. The song felt honest, reflective and endearingly open. Their recent single ‘New Year’s Eve’ is an earworm of a melody capturing the teenage naivety and angst of an overhyped party.
Pale Waves ended the night with their final track ‘There’s a Honey’. This track pretty much sums up Pale Waves sound: dreamy synths, cheery nostalgic guitar and a bouncy bassline. At this point the whole crowd was jumping along, and I was wary that being on the second floor in a room this packed might result in the whole floor caving in under us. Luckily it managed to withstand the craziness of the crowd.
I felt like the show didn’t last nearly as long as I had wanted it to. Before the crowd left all the bands were kind enough to greet everyone. I was one of the first to rush over to Pale Waves to ask for a picture with them before a long queue formed across the entire room as people waited to meet them. I was pleased to find the bands were engaging with the audience as it’s accustomed for artists to rush off after their set to avoid being swamped by fans. It was clear these people were still extremely down-to-earth and grateful for the support they were receiving. By the end of the night I was exhausted, ears-ringing, but on a high from the amazing performances.
It’s easy to get lost in the dreamlike sound of Pale Waves yet the lyrical openness packs a punch. There is nostalgia running throughout every song and clearly driven influences from 1980s artists like The Cure with a modern twist- the result is mesmerising. In a live setting they are just as intriguing with their black-clad appearances contradicting their dance-friendly sound; it’s an intricate blend of happy and sad. It’s definitely the right time to be making funky, eighties inspired indie-pop.