O2 Academy, Bournemouth
"You'll always be my favourite obsession" - Pale Waves, My Obsession
When I was fourteen, I went to my first concert. I remember my ticket costing something like a fiver, allowing me to stand in the back of a pub in Southampton and watch one of Dirty Hit’s newest signings, Pale Waves, as they played their two-song discography to just under two-hundred people, before storming through a setlist of their early demos, which at this point, were only available to stream on YouTube.
It was at this show that I completely fell in love with the band, along with live music.
I then proceeded to follow Pale Waves, attending a show at every headline tour for the next 5 years, and making their music my only personality trait for the best part of a year.
Last night (16/02/22), I had the pleasure of seeing Pale Waves play the o2 Academy, Bournemouth, which was the biggest headline show of theirs I have attended so far (excluding their support slot with Dirty Hit veterans, The 1975, at London’s o2 Arena), and within my party was my best friend’s niece, attending with us to experience her first gig. To me, it really felt like a full-circle moment.
We arrived around an hour before doors and were surprised to see that the queue to get in had not yet become too long (although, the queue rapidly grew as we neared doors, with a line of a few hundred fans buzzing with excitement and hoping to get as close to the front as possible).
By the time we’re in, we’ve managed to score ourselves a spot on the barrier, providing us with an incredible view, just in time for tonight’s two support bands.
The first set of the evening comes from up-and-coming rock band, Bitters, of whom I had not listened to prior to coming to the show, however, was pleasantly surprised by! Despite currently only having two singles on streaming platforms, Bitters owned the stage with energy and guitar-heavy indie goodness complimentary to Pale Waves’ own discography, and the crowd seemed to really take to them!
After a half an hour wait, the second support of the evening took to the stage. Originally, support was supposed to be from Hot Milk, however, unfortunately due to illness, the band have been forced to pull out from the next few shows, so taking their spot tonight was fellow Dirty Hit artist, Beaux (who got the call asking him to join the tour merely 24 hours before – whilst his drummer was having a massage in Hungary, his bassist was in the middle of her final university exams and he was in Cardiff). Admittedly, I was really excited about this line-up change as I’ve heard so many great things about Beaux, and I was not disappointed! With his experimental bedroom pop tracks and crowd engagement, he really had the crowd hooked, with some members of the audience even singing the words back to him, suggesting that it shouldn’t be long until we see Beaux playing to these sized crowds at his own headline shows.
The crowd were also treated to a track that Beaux explained he had only just written, and therefore, had not yet had the full band treatment; and for a first band play through, it seemed to go down really well with the crowd, and you wouldn’t have known it was the track's live debut if it hadn’t been introduced as such!
Between the supports and the main act, we were also lucky enough to get a photo with Beaux, who very kindly stopped at the barrier, which definitely added to the experience and made our night!
At just gone quarter past nine, the lights go down and start to pulsate, as the opening synth line of ‘Change’ plays out. Anticipation runs high before Pale Waves appear on stage, causing the crowd to erupt.
This energy remains for the rest of the evening, with the crowd singing the words back, and lead singer, Heather Baron-Gracie, encouraging the audience to sing back as loud as possible, pointing her microphone in the direction of the thousands of faces smiling back at her, up for a sing-along, at numerous points of the set.
It makes me a little bit emotional comparing this show to the first few Pale Waves headline shows that I attended, where the band seemed to be there solely to play the music. Back then, Baron-Gracie would limit her between song chat to introducing the music, seeming to be incredibly shy. However, tonight, the entire band own the stage, Heather makes sure to come down to the front in order to interact with fans ("If you see that I have blood all over my hands, just ignore it. I didn't kill anyone! I just f*cked up my finger! Or maybe I am a Vampire after all!"), and dances with both Hugo (guitar) and Charlie (bass). There's also a moment where Baron-Gracie goes to the side of stage to fix her lipstick, whilst the band jam. They have the entirety of the academy in the palm of their hand.
The setlist is the perfect mix of tracks from sophomore record, Who Am I?, released just over a year ago, and 2018 debut, My Mind Makes Noises, really celebrating how far the band have come in such a short space of time. I feel like I’m fourteen again, front row, my mind being blown by the concept of live music and the unity that you feel when standing in a crowd of music lovers.
Vid eo: I've put a little clip together of what the evening looked like from down the front.
A highlight of the night was when the band switched from the dazzling, and notably 80s inspired synth-pop track, Kiss, into an acoustic led rendition of Odd Ones Out, which saw Baron-Gracie sitting on a stool with only a spotlight on her, before, unexpectedly, the song built up to the re-entrance of the rest of the band, really filling out the song, as the stage is flooded with light.
For the most part, the setlist is filled with upbeat tracks with danceability, however, when you delve deeper into the lyrics, you notice the slightly more emotional depths of the song. In a live setting, the vocals delivered by Baron-Gracie really add to this, and it is clear that alongside her confidence, her vocals have significantly improved since earlier shows.
On this tour, the crowds have been treated to a new track, which is currently unreleased, going by the name of Jealousy, which is rumoured to be coming in the very near future, and sonically wouldn’t sound out of place on Olivia Rodrigo’s massive debut, Sour, appearing to really draw in Pale Waves’ main influences such as Paramore and Avril Lavigne, in the process. The introduction of the new track delights the crowd and is followed by a lot of cheering, and when the song starts, it’s clear that it’s definitely going to be a hit once it finally arrives!
When Heather announces to the crowd that the next song is a love song, before launching into Who Am I? single, Easy, they sing back every word, increasing the energy of the room even further. Heather encourages the crowd to sing the chorus back on their own, before one last full band sing-along of the euphoric pop tune. The lights fade as Pale Waves exit the stage.
The crowd begin a chant: "One more song, one more song!"
Although I'm aware that it's an encore and that the band haven't yet played one of their most well-known tracks, and the tune that firstly made me become obsessed with them, I can't help but feel a wave of excitement at the thought of their return.
Heather's spoken word piece, from the beginning of the music video for She's My Religion, plays to the academy (which is in complete darkness), before the lights strobe red for the band's return and the opening chords of the anthemic track, one that was just made to be played live and screamed word-for-word.
Just before debut single and live show closer, There's A Honey, a member of the audience throws a pride flag at Baron-Gracie, who proceeds to cocoon herself in it and keep it in place for the last moments of the 16 song setlist; a reminder of the inclusivity and comfort music can bring.
If there's one thing I've recognised from following Pale Waves on their tours over the years, it's that they still continue to amaze me at every show with how far they have progressed, both musically and as artists, and I think it's fair to say that you'll find me down the front at the next headline show near me!