When I walked into Merriweather Post Pavilion to see Soccer Mommy, Foster the People, and Paramore, the first thing I noticed was how colorful everyone looked. Many were wearing clothing with bright hues and patterns; several people also had glitter or rhinestones on their faces. These style trends set the tone for the vibrant show that was to come. That night, all three bands would deconstruct their emotions with aplomb, taking different, but equally bold approaches both musically and lyrically.
The first act to take the stage was Soccer Mommy, i.e. the self-described “chill but kinda sad” indie rock project of Sophie Allison. Allison is currently on leave from NYU, which makes sense—with her artsy leg tattoo, chunky sweater, and slightly mismatched dress, she seems like the kind of laid-back, but thoughtfully self-expressive girl I might run into on campus. She’s talked about her admiration for Taylor Swift, and in a sense, the way she softly sings about failed romances over gentle guitar strumming is evocative of Fearless and Speak Now. Her sound definitely isn’t country, though—there’s a lo-fi, ‘90s-esque element to it. The peak of the set was “Your Dog,” which totally flipped the sentiment once shared by Iggy Pop to proclaim a message of independence with a memorable bassline to boot.
After Soccer Mommy performed, a massive “Sacred Hearts Club” sign was set up onstage, signaling the imminent arrival of Foster the People. Soon, the band members were striding out, one by one, to the intro of “Pseudologia Fantastica,” Supermodel’s most majestic foray into psych rock. When Mark Foster, wearing a gold-embossed paisley jacket that an Instagram post revealed was a thrift item from Budapest, took his place at the mic and began to sway with his eyes closed, it was clear that we were about to experience something great.
The band’s set was fairly balanced between all three of its albums—a solid sampler for new listeners, and a welcome gift for old fans. It was especially fantastic to hear a version of “Lotus Eater” that blended into a jaunty “Blitzkrieg Bop” cover, as well as the falsetto Torches opener “Helena Beat.” Even better, though, was Foster’s brief speech about the power of the music to unite people. Considering the way the band lives up to its name by writing about topics like gun violence and facing fear, his words rang out as sincere.
The grand finale was the perfect triple-punch. First came “Loyal Like Sid and Nancy,” the thematic crux of Sacred Hearts Club. The song’s climactic monologue was even better live—the way Foster wove together sharply spoken lines about everything from Gatsby to Satan was especially potent in the moment. Next was “Pumped Up Kicks,” the intentionally uneasy hit that’s still just as relevant—and ironically catchy—as it was in 2011. (That bassline will never get old.) Last was “Sit Next to Me,” which showed a more lighthearted side of the band. The track’s recent radio play made it a crowd favorite—it seemed like everyone was moving along to the song’s groovy chorus.
Last but not least, Paramore arrived with a burst of color. As giant screens flashed patterns, creating a backdrop for the band, Hayley Williams entered in a bright pink suit, glitter trailing down her face. Critics have noted the ‘80s sounds on After Laughter, specifically praising the Blondie and Talking Heads vibes. Williams did her influences justice onstage—she sang with all the self-assured spunk of Debbie Harry, and danced with all the abandon of David Byrne (although her moves were far smoother than those featured in that iconic “Once in a Lifetime” video).
Like Foster the People’s, Paramore’s set was a healthy blend of old and new, allowing emo and new wave to shake hands. “Still Into You” was a singalong favorite with its punchy riff; the crowd clapped along every time Williams did. “Crushcrushcrush” was another rollicking throwback, modified just enough to make it blend seamlessly with the After Laughter tracks. Another highlight was “Passionfruit”—yes, Drake’s “Passionfruit”—which was performed with grace during an acoustic set. The band stuck to the structure of the original song, but imbued it with a, well, passion that was distinctly theirs.
At one point, Williams mentioned that Paramore had several surprises in store for the night, and sure enough, they did. One of these surprises involved bringing fans onstage for “Misery Business,” arguably Paramore’s most explosive track. First, though, Williams offered a disclaimer about the song’s bitter tone: “Instead of denying it, we’re gonna look it in the face. And you can do this with your old self, too. You can say, ‘Hey, old me; you’re all right. You’re a little dumb, but look how cool you are now.’” Indeed, Williams and the teenage girls she chose from the audience seemed to take that message to heart as they belted out the lyrics. The remaining surprises were just as fantastic. “Ain’t It Fun” featured a guest saxophonist who introduced himself as “Saxl Rose” and subsequently brought a jazzy flair to the track. “Told You So” was followed by a special performance: a rendition of “All That Love Is” by HalfNoise, the musical project of Paramore’s Zac Farro. These little treats made it obvious why Williams is so widely admired by fans—her humility is just as great as her confidence, which makes it all the more enjoyable to watch Paramore’s success.
The last number was funky, glossy After Laughter single “Hard Times.” The song was the perfect way for Paramore to say “hello again” in 2017, and it proved to be the perfect way for them to say “goodbye for now” at the end of the night. As the massive crowd danced along, any and all hard times seemed far, far away.