Barely five-foot tall, wearing a glistening PVC jacket with dishevelled Robert Smith-like makeup and jet-black bobbed-curls, lead-singer Heather Baron-Gracie is your quintessential dark-pop princess. The gothic aesthetics tell one tale, Pale Waves’ cheery pop sound tells another; can this much buzzed-about band liberate themselves from their troublingly facsimile beginnings?
During their time in university, Baron-Gracie founded the band with drummer Ciara Doran, similarly black-clad with bleach-blonde hair, who tonight plays off both an electric drum kit and cymbals. It feels like their band, with the turtleneck-sporting indie-kids of Hugo Silvani (guitarist) and Charlie Woods (bassist) merely clogs in their moody indie-pop machine.
She performs each track with angsty vigour, often twisting her finger in her curls, even pulling them outwardly in playful apprehension, occasionally rolling her eyes into the back of her head in ecstasy as she hits a note. After joining fellow Dirty Hit label-mates The 1975 on their US mega-tour in 2017, it’s clear she has honed in on moulding a tormented, riveting stage persona.
They launch into their short, lively set with ‘Television Romance, whose production is helmed by The 1975. It’s an infectious pop-banger but Baron-Gracie’s lyrics, although sung with unbridled gusto, are sugary, verging far from their projected dark aesthetics. They often teeter between the banal and Kerrang-pop cutesy, platitudes are aplenty. “Now I don’t know what to say to you/I feel like you’re getting to me/Now honestly I’m into you.”
Before delving into their most low-key single to-date ‘My Obsession’, the laconic Baron-Gracie leans into the mic gently, “It’s about to get a bit emo here, this is about an obsession.” A far-cry from the animation and danceability of the previous three tracks, the cacophonous breakdown combines ringing guitars and wailing Baron-Gracie vocals in what is a clear fan-favourite. Each lyric is sung-along religiously. A young, rabid following had amassed despite no significant release in the band’s short, two-year career; they appear destined for pop superstardom, much like their aforementioned labelmates.
Sprung from their much-anticipated, upcoming All The Things I Never Said EP comes their fifth and most transformative performance. Baron-Gracie drops her guitar while Silvani and Woods make their way side-stage to a synth-board and keyboard. More enveloping than much of their played out synth-pop tracks, it’s punchy melody catches much of the crowd off-guard, particularly when Baron-Gracie reintroduces her electric guitar and powerfully closes out the song with dynamic, rainbow-specked riffs.
The unreleased ‘Heavenly’ and ’18’ are more-of-the-same. Upbeat indie-pop with a Chvurches-esque glossy polish. The penultimate performance is ‘New Year’s Eve’, a shimmering yet crestfallen 80’s synth-pop career highlight where her tender cries on the hook “Do you even wanna be with me?” echo in the tightly-packed Grand Social. Set-closer ‘There’s a Honey’ – the band’s first official single on Dirty Hit – sees Baron-Gracie allow the crowd to sing the hook in what is the most notable crowd interaction of the entire night. The band then rush off-stage hastily, seemingly wary of their burgeoning popularity, there isn’t a moment to rest.
Furrowing their sound is an unapologetic cocktail of formative influences – The 1975 included, along with 80’s groups like Cocteau Twins and The Cure – who are stubbornly stencilled into how they conceptualise themselves, both sonically and visually. Inviting funk basslines, danceable riffs, glossy synths and moody lyrics are their calling cards but it is largely repurposed and repackaged nostalgia. Their ability to craft wickedly fun pop tracks is difficult to refute, however, and it’s intriguing to see if they can translate their sound successfully into a cohesive, full-length album.