Outside Cork’s Cyprus Avenue, groups of young fans elicit inquisitive stares from pub-goers. A longstanding local venue, but of humble stature, it doesn’t often attract queues of fans before doors have even opened. Yet tonight band shirts and Doc Martens abound, overflowing the pseudo-entrance (aka pub smoking area) of the venue. It’s all for Pale Waves, who pride themselves on the passionate and supportive fan community that has formed around their indie-pop quartet.
Having signed to Dirty Hit in 2017, Pale Waves released a deluge of synth laden singles and cinematic videos before dropping their debut album My Mind Makes Noises just last month. Since their first single There’s a Honey fans have been impatient for more, but Pale Waves have never failed to deliver. They’ve already played hundreds of gigs and festivals, and tonight’s intimate club show is in stark contrast to the large theatre shows preceding it. That only makes it all the more fun, and lead vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie agrees “we haven’t played a venue this small in ages; it’s really nice!”
Keen not to compromise on any aspect of their live show, Pale Waves hype the crowd with rhythmic strobe lighting and atmospheric synth, before making an entrance to already deafening cheers. As an opener the deadpan humour of Television Romance is well received, with its summer-y singalong chorus and easy danceability putting the crowd at ease.
Album track Red showcases the reliable skillset of guitarist Hugo (who Heather cites as instrumental in shaping their pulsating live show), while propulsive 80s synth lend a euphoric and anthemic feel to this charming reflection on a blossoming young relationship. Setting her guitar aside Heather is bathed in red light and sways across the stage with subtle theatricality. There is a quiet intensity to her presence throughout the night, one moment hunched concentratedly over her mic and the next standing tall with arms spread almost like religious iconography.
Heathers love and support of drummer Ciara is evidenced by their brief but endearing moments of interaction (and comes as no surprise given they have each other’s names tattooed), but Ciara is not short of crowd support either. Fans call her by name to offer praise between each and every song, though her steadfast drumming and sleek production is indeed a backbone of Pale Wave’s discography making it well deserved. Heather acknowledges warmly that “everyone loves Ciara” (while also adding that Ciara is half-Irish, meriting a cheer all of its own). Oft underrated though bassists can be, Charlie gets his fair share of fan praise too, and even if “hey, bass man!” is the prelude he thanks them with a smile.
Critics question the versality of Pale Waves, but there is both light and shade to their performance, with the emotional vulnerability of She and Noises proving particularly memorable. She serves as the sole ballad of the night, detailing the brutal fallout of infidelity with unflinching honesty. Initially sparse on instrumentation, Charlie plays a synth drone before Heather stands still under a spotlight centre stage with a melancholy guitar solo. When Pale Waves know we want to dance again they pace themselves according; “we’re definitely going to play a happy song now”. Some Jackson style dance moves from Heather compliment the infectiously catchy Came in Close, and she has the audience transfixed.
The highlight of the night comes in the form of introspective Noises. Given the opening lyric eventually became their album title, it’s clearly a track that holds special meaning for the band, but it has come to hold special meaning for many of their fans too. Openly detailing Heather’s struggle with body image, insecurity, and self-doubt, she confirms to me earlier in the day that Noises is a track many fans tell her has helped them get through a bad time. During tonight’s rendition Heather descends into the crowd, but instead of being grabbed or pulled she is welcomed across the threshold, fan and artist huddled, foreheads together, in what is a poignant sight to behold. Soon Heather rejoins Charlie and Hugo to gather around Ciara, now pointing their focus inwards, and their comfort together as a band is palpable.
Heather wants Pale Waves’ shows to be somewhere fans can feel at ease, and it is a goal they have certainly achieved. With their mixture of nostalgic 80s synth, catchy pop hooks, and emotionally honest lyricism Pale Waves have cultivated a space that feels not only fun but rewarding to be part of. I have no doubt their fan community will continue to grow in years to come.
Read our interview with Pale Waves’ Heather Baron-Gracie here.