Pale Waves at Kentish Town Forum review | Venom and sugar from pop punk’s newest idols

Heather Baron-Gracie’s synthpop upstarts discovered a punk rock edge on this year’s new album, Unwanted. At the end of their headlining UK tour, the Manchester four-piece double down on their newfound attitude.

Pale Waves gig review


If you caught Pale Waves when they were touring off the back of 2021’s Who Am I?, then vibrance was a massive part of what you saw. The Mancunian pop youngsters performed under a spectrum of stage lighting, while wearing red and black outfits and brandishing brightly coloured guitars. As Heather Baron-Gracie and her bandmates walked on stage at Kentish Town Forum tonight, though, they may as well be doing it in monochrome.

It’s an apt evolution considering that, both musically and visually, Pale Waves recently went much darker. The band’s third album, Unwanted, rejected the merriment and smitten lyricism of its predecessor but doubled down on the pop punk flourishes to create a full-blooded rock record.

The cover art was a black-and-white photo of four moody musicians, while the songs contained such acidic lyrics as “Wish I could go back to the night when I met you, so I could tell you to go to hell”.

Pale Waves

Pale Waves performing pre-Unwanted.

In a sold-out Kentish Town Forum, that attitude carries over in the form of every Pale Waves member wearing naught but jet-black clothes. There’s no fandangled lighting, just columns of white spotlights flanking the stage. And the backdrop is as barebones as it gets: the band’s name in white text on black fabric.

Not even a setup that looks bleaker than a Victorian funeral can damage the euphoria of tonight’s 5,000 fans, though. Unwanted single ‘Liar’ opens, instantly igniting a venue-wide singalong thanks to its Paramore-esque chorus leading the charge. Mid-song, a tiara gets tossed on stage, and Baron-Gracie gladly puts it on. It’s the first of countless interactions between band and fan from the now-coronated pop punk queen.

Roses flying at Baron-Gracie are far from uncommon throughout the night. At one point a pink cowgirl hat joins the deluge, when bassist Charlie Wood puts it on the frontwoman while she’s brandishing an acoustic guitar, it turns her into the tacky country icon she probably never wanted to be. The apex, though, is when Pale Waves decide to pull out an impromptu cover of Dove Cameron’s ‘Boyfriend’.

“Did anyone drag their boyfriend here tonight?” Baron-Gracie asks, before getting one of her respondents on stage to intimately serenade her. As sweet a gesture as it is, when that fan is sitting alone mid-stage, with the whole band turned away from her to face the audience, she’s probably feeling as awkward as we all do when a restaurant is singing happy birthday to us and we have no clue what to do with ourselves.

Pale Waves

Despite the joy both Pale Waves and their fans are sharing this evening, there’s a heaviness to Unwanted’s songs that not even the album put across. At the start of ‘You’re So Vain’, Hugo Silvani’s guitar carries a vintage hard rock grit, before ‘Clean’ commences with a cacophonous drum fill. It does nothing to dampen the bliss of the night – if anything, it adds to the adrenaline of the entire affair – but it’s a powerful edge that could serve this band’s future music well.

The people that have rocked up purely for sugary sweet synthpop still get their fill though, as ‘Television Romance’ rears its head surprisingly early, ahead of a stripped-down ‘The Hard Way’ to finish the main set.

An encore of ‘She’s My Religion’ into ‘Jealously’ starkly demonstrates the difference between the Pale Waves of now, and of old. The ‘Who Am I?’ cut heralds spotlights with the colours of the LGBTQ+ flag, before the closing anthem seethes with lyrics like “Jealousy’s my best friend”.

Baron-Gracie grew up obsessed with such pop punk icons as Avril Lavigne and, after tonight’s extravaganza, she and her cohorts are close to recapturing the appeal of her idol. There’s a cathartic bite that’s new to the Pale Waves soundscape, yet the sweetness and celebration that drew so many to Kentish Town this evening remains unhindered.

Read our full interview with Pale Waves earlier this year.

Leave a Reply

More like this