Pale Waves @ The Foundry
Anyone old enough to remember the 1980s first time round, might be a bit surprised by the sincerity with which the current crop of bands have latched onto the sound and style of that decade. Watching the bands tonight, there’s little to confirm that we’ve not somehow been transported back 30 years. This is equally true of the style adopted by the young crowd. ‘Awwww. Look at all the tiny goths’, coos a friend.
Unfortunately I arrived fashionably late for openers, King Nun, and only caught the last song, a delicious Fall stomp, which was exciting enough to make me wish I’d spent less time backcombing my hair and got here earlier. But middle band, the Swimming Girls are a note-perfect Cocteau Twins tribute act, all swirly guitars and little girl vocals. The band eschew the shoe-gazing modesty of their predecessors though, with singer, Vanessa, leaning confidently out into the crowd, a dead ringer for Bladerunner’s Pris. Their (too) short set shakes out compressed pop songs until they’re expansive enough to fill a sonic cathedral. They might not yet have the hits to carry a Foundry gig on their own, but they’ve got more than enough promise and polish to suggest that it won’t be long.
The Foundry sound system doesn’t always do bands any favours, Swimming Girls’ gossamer swirls might have benefitted from something more subtle, but its full power is marshalled for Pale Waves’ Wagnerian entrance, all orchestral drone and dry ice, building tension before the band slam into Television Romance, instantly transformed by the ecstatic crowd into an epic celebration of a band teetering on the edge of greatness. When the band storm through Eighteen and Kiss, both massive, you can almost see the Foundry walls bowing outwards to contain the sound.
How can four mortals slam out this much noise? And, yes, occasionally, it is hard to work out who’s playing what, and sometimes sounds do seem to come out of nowhere, leading to a suspicion that that there might be some kind of, uh, artificial supplementation involved. But you know what? Even if that’s the case, who cares? The old rules don’t apply any more, Grandad. And any worries about whether human-Heather could channel the stacked robo-Heather vocals of the album are unfounded. Her voice is as grained and solid as granite, whorled and swirling with vocal ticks and grit familiar from the record.
Four more high-density pop slammers follow in quick succession; Black, the last of these is a chunk of pop-Goth, within nodding distance of The Cure’s Friday I’m in Love. But by this point, the sound is almost too relentless, suffocating, and She, despite its downbeat subject matter comes as a relief, a welcome change of pace. And this might be the band’s downfall, it’s almost all too much. The heft and weight of the sound threatens to crush all light and shade from these tunes.
In between the onslaught, though, light relief comes in the form of some good-natured regionalist baiting, the crowd serenading the Manchester band, with a ‘Yorkshire’ chant. In return, Heather observes that we’re a funky crowd, a compliment, I think, before Pale Waves lean into another hefty slab of poppy rock, Came in Close, lifting us from our feet in the swell and carrying us into epic set-closer, Noises. The four piece disappear leaving a cavernous echo and a hanging question; where do they go from here? The Academy or Stadium next time, surely? The flickering lights and drone of a spaceship warming for take-off to transport the band into the next league marks the start of the encore,Obsession, before they finish us off with There’s a Honey, provoking a mass outbreak of dancing, and in ‘I’d give you my body, but I’m not sure that you want me’, perhaps the weirdest crowd sing-along ever.
It’s goth, Jim, but not as we know it. If they continue this trajectory, expect to see Pale Waves copyists headlining the Foundry in 2048.