For Pale Waves to sell out even a small venue such as Southampton’s Joiners on their first headline tour, with just two officially released songs, says more about the precision quality of their record sound than it does about the actual live show.
Granted, those two songs (‘There’s A Honey’ and ‘Television Romance’) are deliciously addictive pop gems, with the uncertainty, longing, and relative sadness of their lyrics all coated in the sugary tones that brought us The 1975. Yet with just those two songs, you maybe can’t blame the mixed age crowd for being shy to engage in sing-alongs. Not that they were asked to.
Chemistry isn’t the band’s problem – even to accuse them of having a “problem” seems to miss the point. Their untalkative setlist (beyond requisite introductions for the six songs no-one could know) was more of the tightly rehearsed/relaxed delivery variety. Bassist Charlie and lead guitarist Hugo hit their marks with ease, bobbing along to their own instruments’ with a downplayed groove; drummer Ciara executes the songs’ clean rhythms, particularly shining during the bridge of ‘The Tide’ where for four bars, she and her discordantly Trap-like drums exist alone; above all this, lone vocalist (and guitarist) Heather will, from this show’s evidence, grow into a performer capable of bewitching much larger audiences entirely through her Mancunian tones. The pairing of airy synths and her delivery of ‘My Obsession’s pensive opening (“If you didn’t have an appetite for life/When you die you would be heaven’s obsession”) is a striking one, and her awkward T-Rex physicality makes a solid contrast to when she’s doubled over her electric.
What’s lacking is the simple spark that only a great gig can bring. The symbiotic marriage between band and audience, each feeding off the other until atmosphere bleeds onto the streets. It’s more singers monologuing with the crowd in between tracks – Pale Waves’ precision almost seemed to prevent them interacting with each other, never mind addressing the hungry crowd. There’s friendliness and heaps of professionalism in their show, but no intimacy.
Yet above all else, their performances at the Joiners and beyond will have had something that cannot be found elsewhere. For the time being, it’s the only way to experience more of their music. Eight songs are too few for an LP, too many for an EP; as the group’s elevator pitch to audiences across the country, their set is as compelling as these things come. Previously released demos ‘The Tide’ and ‘Heavenly’ are richer than ever, and with the aforementioned singles bookending their performance audiences are guaranteed to leave springily.
Everything in between points to the band continuing down their sweetly-weepy road, with Heather’s delivery of the lyrics highlighting their concise devastation AND hookability. ‘Kiss’ has this trick nailed in its chorus of “I’ll kiss you hard/Just like I’m breaking your heart”; additionally, ‘You Don’t Love Us Anymore’ brings life to a relationship on the brink through cleverly employed pronouns; it becomes a living thing to be lost, more than two people breaking apart.
A Pale Waves gig at this stage might not offer anything fresh for veterans of the scene, whether that experience was acquired in live venues or sandwiched between headphones. But it’ll be a thrilling glimpse for fans, and the perfect memory for when, in 2020, they can falsely claim that the band’s wild light show at the local Arena paled in comparison to the small one in a bar’s back-room from three years earlier.