"Where were you in 2007?"
That's the question Paramore's Hayley Williams asked toward the end of the band's recent Toronto stop. She wanted to relate to the packed, screaming crowd the band's transformation from mall punk to stadium rock to pop. Yet that evolution that hasn't always come easy. Amid inner band turmoil that's caused copious turnover in membership, Williams has maintained an eagle-eyed focus, turning personal travail into populous empowerment anthems. Fittingly then, onstage, the group's many musical moods fit together likes pieces of a much larger puzzle.
Musical eclecticism does not describe openers Best Coast, who have stubbornly (though often expertly) worked within a relatively tight box since their debut. Like Williams though, Bethany Cosentino has made creative hay from her anxieties. She, guitarist Bob Bruno and their expanded three-piece worked through a set of left coast stoner anthems, fighting early sound issues to win over an audience of whom less than half were versed in the band's work. But by the time Best Coast finished with "Boyfriend," the crowd were on their feet.
From the opening notes of "Hard Times" off this year's After Laughter, Williams was a roving ball of energy on stage. She transferred that spirit to the crowd who sang along to every word, new and old, throughout the night. The trio were rounded out by an additional three musicians and backed by a giant kaleidoscopic disc of lights and projections. But the show worked best when the group relied on Williams, not spectacle, to carry the proceedings.
After running through a string of favourites, flipping between old anthems like "Ignorance" and arena-ready power ballads like "Daydreaming," Williams half-joked that it was increasingly important to express feelings in a way other than anger before "Hate to See Your Heart Break," then brought the energy down further, sitting alone onstage with guitarist Taylor York for an emotive "26" before bringing back the band for a run through Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere" which fit right in with the band's current sound. A run through "Fake Happy," "Misery Business" (pulling a fan out of the audience to sing its bridge), and "Ain't It Fun" finished the set proper.
The band returned shortly after for "Caught in the Middle," after which Williams ceded the spotlight to drummer Zac Farro for a track from his HalfNoise project that he formed after leaving Paramore in 2010 (clearly there are no hard feelings there). It was a weird one to throw into an encore, but it worked and after introducing each band member to the crowd, they finished with "Rose Colored Boy."
Over the years Paramore (and to a lesser extent, Best Coast) have been dismissed as fluff, Williams' words too "soft" for the elitist punk rock boys club. She left that world behind long ago, building her own tent under which Paramore could live and grow. They've brought their fans into that tent as well, end each show with a sign of unity with their fans, leading the crowd in a chant of "We are Paramore." "Thanks for growing up with us," Williams said with heartfelt sincerity to the audience who indicated their solidarity with screams.