As the houselights dim on the Metro Lair just a spot after 8:30pm, a cheer goes up – and stays up. Normally, the arrival of a headliner will elicit a positive response before settling down and getting ready for the show to begin in earnest. Tonight already feels different – even with ambient synthesizer backing tracks being the only music playing, the response from the packed room equates to hearing a hit single. There’s a fever-pitch excitability surrounding British upstarts Pale Waves – and it’s entirely justifiable, too; particularly when one considers this audience is set to bare witness to the band’s first-ever performance on Australian soil. As the members of the band assume stations one by one, the crowd response goes even louder – a given, you might think, but remember we were already at boy-band levels of pandemonium previously. The couple-hundred capacity Metro Lair has the roar of an arena – and the payoff, a slick rendition of breakthrough single “Television Romance,” feels entirely rewarding.
With only a string of singles and an EP to their name, the new-wave quartet are riding a wave of momentum in the lead-up to their debut album, expected late in the year’s third quarter. We’ve essentially been observing the band carving out their niche and finding their sound from afar – and tonight marks our first chance to see how that process is working. Vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie appears to be the literal embodiment of the band’s developments – once an introverted, insular and reluctant frontwoman, she now performs several songs without a guitar as her shield. She dances confidently, writhing about in the same way Lorde did when she first started out; her singing comes with a sense of clarity and composure. The band are airtight, navigating dynamics and locking into the infectious grooves of their neon-tinged pop. Normally, seeing a band at such an early stage means you’re seeing a work in progress. Not so with Pale Waves – the entire operation feels like a finished product.
Between songs, Baron-Gracie takes gifts presented to her by fans. One appears to be a Bratz doll of some variation, dressed up to look like her. The other is a painted portrait. The fact Pale Waves are receiving this level of fervency so early on says a lot about their magnetism. Whatever comes next, you’re drawn in and you’re present for it. It’s wonderful.
Review – David James Young.