Growing Up with Paramore

Please forgive us, we couldn't take pictures at last night's show without prior review by and permission of the artist, which we don't do. Here's a nice photo of our ticket stub.
Please forgive us, we couldn't take pictures at last night's show without prior review by and permission of the artist, which we don't do. Here's a nice photo of our ticket stub. Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
Ahead of last night’s Paramore show at Toyota Center, a lot of thought was given to these opening sentences, thought that hinged on how exactly to convey what it was like once seeing one of the world’s biggest pop bands play the hot parking lots of Warped Tour. And, following that thought, what it was like to follow the band as a fan from those shows to midsized rooms like Bayou Music Center back when it was still being called Verizon Wireless. And then what it might be like seeing Paramore command one of Houston’s biggest concert halls at Toyota Center.

Those thoughts about growth, about fortitude in a sometimes harsh and frequently fickle music business, never fully formed because the band’s vocalist Hayley Williams addressed the matter and spoke to it better than any concert reviewer might.

“We put out our first album in 2005. You know what I mean, that’s a long time ago. And we’ve been so many people, just like I’m sure every single one of you have been so many different people throughout your lives, especially if you’ve been alive for 30-something years, like we have,” Williams told a teeming Toyota Center crowd. “And a lot of you have watched our band become different versions of Paramore with every single album. And the last record that we put out this year is who we are right now. In fact, we already feel like we’re changing and ready to make more music.”

The crowd erupted and Williams seemed genuinely taken aback by how taken with her and her bandmates Houston seems to be. She said it’s been a decade since Paramore’s played arenas like Toyota Center, but they seemed very comfortable, maybe because of all that fan love. Throughout the night, she remarked on the audience participation and enthusiasm. Most bands do this during concerts, of course, but the undivided attention and verve with which Paramore was received last night twisted those concert tropes into something real.

“I know I already said it tonight, please forgive me for being redundant, but it just means a lot that we get to grow up and try everything. We’ve been through so much, man, so many things we should have never – the band shouldn’t have made it through. And I think that we did because we have people like you.”

That was the intro to “The Only Exception,” one of the band’s biggest hits, dedicated last night to the “elder emos” and the young TikTokkers who’ve kept Paramore in business and relevant. They all came together, a mostly 40-and-under gathering of wonderfully diverse people, people who came ready to rock, dance and hold their camera flashlights high. As Williams noted, the band’s chameleon skin has given it the good karma of adding new members to the Paramore “family” over nearly 20 years.

“You guys sing those new ones as loud as the old ones, it’s crazy to us,” she said. “It’s hard to believe we’re still doing this. Not because we never wanted to keep doing it but just (because) this doesn’t happen. This doesn’t happen. Bands don’t get to grow up together.

“We know that we’re very, very fortunate, this is not lost on us. Every single night that we get a chance to look out and see all of the faces that we do it’s – there’s not even a word for it. It’s unbelievable to be here with you. Thank you.”

That’s how the night went, a mutual love and respect between band and audience, right from set opener “You First,” off the latest album, This Is Why. Williams was a burst of energy, clad in a stylish red and black checkerboard blazer and short suit set, the jacket adorned with oversized gold buttons. She’s now blonde, her reddish-orange hair a blur from past Paramore shows, like that one on the hot tarmac of Warped in the late 2000s. Her black knee-high boots were made for dancing and walking all over detractors and nemeses (read the “Not-So-Random Notebook Dump” for Williams’ full statement on politics and voting in Texas, the only such statement she made in several Texas dates this run, she said).

About a third of the set was pulled from the new album, which was released in February to good reviews. “You First” benefited from pent-up crowd enthusiasm and some confetti bombs and the best live versions of the new tracks included “Running Out of Time,” which has killer lyrics that give us on-the-go types something to think about, especially when we can’t keep promises to others or ourselves. “Liar” has a jazzy vibe to it and is a nice turn from songs like those from After Laughter. Nothing wrong with those songs but they were deadeye targeted for pop airplay. “Liar” is something different and hearing Williams deliver it, cast in shadows alongside bandmates Zac Farro and Taylor York on an ancillary stage hovering over the main stage, made at least this listener excited about the next Paramore album.

Late in the set, drummer Farro took front and center for “Baby,” from his project HalfNoise and it was fun watching him ham it up next to Williams, who strummed along on acoustic guitar. The song was not dedicated to the Houston Press’s own Classic Rock Bob, but he’d surely dig its 1970s yacht rock stylings.

The songs from This Is Why, in this writer’s humble estimation, are as good as anything in the band’s discography. Considering the fan favorites from the earlier stuff – “Caught in the Middle,” “Decode,” “Hard Times,” “Ain’t It Fun,” which all had fans unashamedly singing and dancing – maybe that’s a bold statement. The good news of being a 58 year-old man (read: “elder emo”) reviewing a Paramore show is knowing Williams doesn’t give one good goddamn what’s written by a 58 year-old man. The better news is what’s being written by this 58 year-old man can’t be critical of a night where the music and the vibes created so much joy.

The Openers: Foals preceded Paramore and turned Toyota Center into a discotheque at ten ‘til 8 p.m. with rev-ups like “Wake Me Up” and “My Number,” which has a funky guitar riff that got the standing room only crowd on the arena’s floor dancing. They slowed things down only momentarily for the trippy “Spanish Sahara” and ended a too-brief run with “Inhaler” and “What Went Down,” saving their best performances for the close of the set.

The Linda Lindas, y’all! First, it was nice, a point of pride even, to see most of the floor packed to the soundboard and at least half the seats filled for the band’s terribly early set. They hit the stage at 7 o’clock sharp and their reputation has clearly preceded them. Believe the hype. They’re incredible, never mind that the foursome ranges in ages from 18 down to 12. If I could do anything at 12 the way Mila de la Garza plays drums, you’d probably be reading my 12th bestselling novel instead of this review (or, maybe still the review and my 12 books). Each member – Bela Salazar (guitar), Eloise Wong (bass) and Lucia de la Garza (guitars and Mila’s older sister) - took a turn on vocals for songs like “Magic,” the unreleased Spanish-language tune “Yo Me Estreso” and “Nino,” about Salazar’s cat. Did Joey Ramone have a cat? That’s what “Nino” brought to mind.

The Linda Lindas aren’t just extraordinarily talented. They’re badasses. Wong suffered some sort of injury on the second song of the set, maybe a leg injury. Down she went. The band – including Wong – kept playing. When the song ended, stage hands came out with a chair and lifted her into it, where she sat, introduced the next song and then sang it! If your motto is “We rebuild what you destroy,” you’ve gotta be tough. They played on, dedicating “Growing Up” to Paramore and gaining new fans with new songs like “Too Many Things.” If you happened to miss them because of that early start, no worries. The Linda Lindas are gonna be around for a long time.

Personal Bias: The songs from Riot! are always going to be favorites because they remind me of my daughter, who introduced our family to Paramore as a teen. She was only 13 when Williams and company were singing “once a whore, you’re nothing more, I’m sorry, that’ll never change.” At 13, my daughter still had a lot of growing up to do and so did Williams, who was only five years older than my daughter when “Misery Business” put Paramore on the map. How they’ve each viewed that particular lyric over the years says the best kind of thing about how we grow. Songs like “Misery Business” got my daughter digging into sexual and gender politics at a young age and impacted how she chooses her own words for her own art. For Williams’ part, last night she didn’t sing that line, but covered her mouth and allowed the crowd to do that particular bit of heavy lifting.

The Crowd: In a word, young. In several words, somewhere between early 20s and early 40s, on average, black, white and brown folks, a very inclusive group. Gen Z was heavily in attendance, great for record and concert ticket sales, not great for alcohol sales. According to a recent Business Insider report Gen Z is not boozing it up at its preferred shows and that showed last night at Toyota, where it was weird to not have to wait in long lines for a drink. Love it!

Not-So-Random Notebook Dump: A full transcript of Williams’ political statement to the crowd at last night’s show:

“I didn’t write a single bit of this down, I’m gonna flub it, there’s no question. My intentions are good but I know intentions are shit so I’m going to try, I’m gonna try to get through this. Ever since we got into Texas I’ve been holding my tongue for the most part because we all deserve to come into spaces where we get to forget that the real world exists. You do, you deserve that, you absolutely deserve that. You paid money to be here and you want to hear some songs that you love and we want nothing more than just to do that for you.

“But, for the three shows that we’ve been here, the furthest that I’ve gotten into anything political or social at all is just to make some sly remarks and dedicate a diss track to Greg Abbott. Because it is ‘Fuck Greg Abbott,’ it is. Absolutely. But I also want to acknowledge that we come into a state that is not ours and it’s very easy to get up on stage and have a microphone and say fuck anybody, you know? ‘Screw this guy, if you vote for this guy you’re dead to me,’ I’ve been quoted as such and a lot of people were not very happy with me for speaking my mind about it.

“The truth is we need to be able to say those things because we all need an outlet in 2023. This shit is fucked. All of it, it’s so sad. But we cannot just say fuck this guy or fuck that guy. We can’t just say fuck the opposition. It’s fun. But it doesn’t get shit done.

“So, I wanna tell you this Houston, because I just learned this from someone that I’m getting to know, his name is Beto O’Rourke. He told me that something like four million people, over four million people in this state that are not registered to vote right now, Houston has the most number of people that are unregistered, this city, that we’re in right now, the one that we love. We really love Houston, right? This is the Houston that we know. Every single time, it looks diverse, it looks inclusive, it looks like joy. It’s beautiful.

“I have a question, really fast. How many of you are old enough this year that you can vote? Okay, alright. I want to speak directly to you, especially the young people, and especially people of color. I want to talk directly to you because it’s good news and it’s bad news. You have a power that is underutilized and underestimated, okay? There are people in power here that know your power and it scares them shitless. You have the power to vote against hatred, ignorance, bigotry, fascism. You get to choose if only you fight to get there. And it’s a lot of pressure, it’s a lot of pressure and it’s a load of responsibility so I’m not just saying, ‘Hey, go do it,’ it’s easier said than done, always. But for the love of every living thing that you care about, do whatever it takes to register to vote. And, if you can, become one of those volunteers that helps other people register.

“You can empower yourself and you can empower other people. Young people, black and brown people that we love so much and that make our culture and life and our country, this is what we’ve got, this is the chance that we all have. We come from a state with people in power that do not take care of and treat humans with dignity and respect. So please can we all just fucking vote?

“And look, we can say ‘Fuck Greg Abbott,’ we can say fuck whoever you want all the way to the polls, but get there. Do it. Do it for your future, please.”

Paramore Set List

You First
The News
That’s What You Get
Playing God
Caught in the Middle
Rose-Colored Boy
Running Out of Time
Last Hope
Big Man, Little Dignity
Crystal Clear
Hard Times
Told You So
Figure 8
The Only Exception
Baby (HalfNoise cover)
Misery Business
Ain’t it Fun
Still Into You
This is Why
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.