LIVE REVIEW: Pale Waves – Academy 1, Liverpool – 26/11/2022

For as much as Pale Waves have been cursed by unevenness basically all the way up to now, they’ve grown into a live band with some exceptionally long legs underneath them. Putting their actual live prowess aside for a second, it’s the fact they’ve pulled in a sold-out crowd tonight, while heavily comprised of people from far outside their expected demographic. There’s still a good crop of younger attendees but it’s not even close to the overwhelming majority. And when the bristle of excitement from everyone comes thick and fast pretty early on (these aren’t just chaperones, they’re genuine fans), it’s a sign that Pale Waves’ appeal and standing might not be as boxed-in as could otherwise be presumed.

It’s not a blinkered crowd either; they’re open and game to giving Abby Roberts a warm reception, even when her come-up as a TikTok make-up artist now breaking into music would be wide open for derision from a more disparaging audience. And sure, the path from TikTok sensation to alt-pop-cum-pop-punk upstart has been somewhat fast-tracked in her case, but it’s hard to deny she’s quite good at it. She’s got far more tangible charisma and personality than most churned out of the social media mill, and a uniformly strong live band behind her that elevates this all the more. The songs themselves don’t exactly leap out just yet—there’s still an element of assembling the vogue alternative styles of Roberts’ spheres to see what works best—but between some noteworthy star potential and a lot of genuinely workable ideas, it’s really only a matter of time. The fact that’s the case and she’s already head and shoulders above plenty in the same camp is phenomenally encouraging.

As for Pale Waves themselves, they don’t really need much more honing at this stage, in the live environment predominantly. Just like their labelmates and associates The 1975, their amassed collection of hooks gets the best opportunity to fly onstage, pruned of filler and affording the best of the best an ever greater pedestal. You’d think they were as reliable as pop bands come based on live figure; focusing squarely on their hits and the obvious crowd-pleasers proves to be the absolute best route for Pale Waves to take.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of them either, something which becomes all the more obvious outside the context of their respective albums for over an hour of banger after banger. What’s noteworthy is how Pale Waves do a good job of retooling what they have ever so slightly to fit their current pop-punk-leaning guise. It’s more a case of recolouring the broad strokes—generally through some bigger guitars and heightened overall presence—but you’re really not getting many dips in style or pace here. Even when there is, they’re completely natural for the momentum; there’s still a place for 2000s-era pop-rock on Fall To Pieces and Change, and swift, slick indie-pop straight from the mid-2010s in Television Romance and Eighteen.

It’s all very professional and well-composed, without being too clinically so. Honestly, it hits the ideal balance that pop-rock this inherently commercial can, emphasising the built-in gloss of Pale Waves’ material (further brought forward by a mix that’s practically perfect in its clarity) while still letting their arsenal of monster hooks slam down. It becomes rather startling how often that’s the case, and how many earworms that Pale Waves currently have to their name. There’s nothing mild about it either; the likes of Alone and Reason To Live are tremendously explosive, as are the accompanying scream-alongs that are seldom this fevered for any act out of the grasp of proper stardom.

Speaking of which, that’s Heather Baron-Gracie to a T. Let’s not minimise this—she’s pretty much a bona fide superstar at this point, as magnetic as you like with the pipes to carry a set like this for absolute miles. That’s not even touching on the cult of personality around her either, as the sort of champion for inclusivity that’s very welcome among this crowd particularly; the big cheers when she hold aloft the lesbian and trans flags aren’t surprising in the slightest. ‘Alternative’ still might skirt past Pale Waves’ music a lot of the time, but that’s exactly the vibe that Baron-Gracie wants to cultivate herself, and she frankly nails it.

Truthfully, Pale Waves as a whole nail it. Onstage is where this band hit their greatest stride and it’s not even a contest, with the sort of effortlessly cool, insanely energetic and buoyant showing that’s exactly what you want in pop-rock. When they smash through the finish line with Jealousy, it’s the final layer of crystallisation for just how enormous Pale Waves’ potential is. Most crucially, it’s enough to put aside the inconsistencies on record, and really appreciate how much fun this band is capable of delivering.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Photos by Faye Roberts (Instagram)

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