In the midst of raging Canadian wildfires and air quality warnings, Paramore managed to bring out thousands of fans for their much anticipated “This Is Why” tour at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on June 8th, 2023 – a huge jump in scale since their last Toronto show at the History venue in 2022. The stadium was surrounded by hundreds of people lining up early in hopes of securing coveted spots at the front of the floor, unmistakably fans of Paramore clad in a uniform of fishnet tights, Dr. Martens combat boots and thick black eyeliner.
The show was opened first by singer and rapper Genesis Owusu, all the way from Canberra, Australia. He emerged on stage on the shoulders of his dancers, who were draped under a black cape and pulsating to the chromatic electronic beat of “Leaving The Light,” presenting him as some sort of giant goth caterpillar. The cape quickly ripped away, revealing his three dancers/hypemen dancing around Owusu on the stage and yelling adlibs into their own microphones. His set consisted of an energetic blend of hip-hop, jazz, electro-pop and R&B.
Following Genesis Owusu came Bloc Party, an alt-rock and Brit-pop band from London, UK, who Hayley Williams herself cited as an inspiration for their newest album, This Is Why. Bloc Party opened with “In Situ,” a moody track sung over a flickering synth and simple guitar riff that built until erupting into a dual guitar solo – one of my highlights from their performance. Their set ranged from the heavier guttural bass and synth tracks such as “Kettling” and “Traps”, to “Blue Light”, an emotional ballad. I particularly enjoyed the performances from the drummer Louise Bartle, who executed complex polyrhythms, and Russell Lissack, the lead guitarist, keen with his sharp riffs.
After a quick intermission, the lights dimmed for Paramore to take the stage. Hayley Williams, Zac Farro and Taylor York were joined by backing band members Joey Howard, Joey Mullen, Logan MacKenzie and Brian Robert Jones; they opened their two-hour-long performance fittingly with “You First” off of their new record. Red confetti shot over the crowd as they pumped their fists and screamed along with frontwoman Williams. “Take care of each other and let’s just fucking dance, Toronto!” she commanded before erupting into her signature choreography: furious high kicks, head banging and twirling back and forth across the stage. Williams wore a yellow cropped silk blazer with matching shorts and gold boots; she quickly ripped the jacket off, revealing a T-shirt that read “STOP FUCKING THE PLANET” – very suitable considering the dystopian-esque smog outside the stadium which had engulfed eastern Canada. “We are going to shut out the bullshit in the rest of the world”, she instructed her fans. “The only rule tonight is that this is your show.”
Their setlist drew from many different eras of their discography, with upbeat dance-pop songs: “Caught in the Middle,” “Rose-Coloured Boy,” as well as moody anthemic tracks: “Playing God” and “Decode.” Introducing “Big Man, Little Dignity,” a cheeky track about holding men accountable, Hayley revealed that this was her favourite song for now and that “this is for all those people in power who are just shitty fucking fuckers”.
Williams, York and Farro reappeared on the B-stage balcony after momentarily disappearing. Williams stood uncharacteristically still to deliver the soft and dreamy vocals of “Liar” and a haunting acapella intro for “Crystal Clear,” a track from her 2020 solo album “Petals for Armour.” The frantic dancing quickly returned with the primary band members back on the main stage for “Hard Times,” which was mashed up with Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” during the outro and ended with fireworks and Williams landing in a split. And what would a Paramore concert be without “The Only Exception”? Williams commented on how bizarre the track is for being a beautiful love song released during a tumultuous time in the band’s history when they nearly broke up – referring to “Brand New Eyes” as their “Rumors”, a reference to the infamous Fleetwood Mac record. It was a touching sight as fans across the stadium lit their flashlights, and couples all around me held each other while singing the lyrics. Afterwards, Williams briefly swapped out her role as lead singer and picked up the acoustic guitar for bandmate Farro’s song “Baby” from his solo project HalfNoise.
The most anticipated moment of the show, without a doubt, was “Misery Business,” which has a tradition of Williams bringing a fan on stage to sing the bridge of the emo cult classic. Fans desperately waved their signs in the air to catch her eye; the one that stood out to me the most read “HAYLEY! U R ON MY LEG! SHOW U DURING MIZBIZ?” with a picture of a Hayley Williams thigh piece tattoo next to it. Finally, she decided to choose someone standing far out in the back with a tiny pink sign, telling the crowd to make way for her to come up. York had also picked out an eager guitarist from the crowd to shred the iconic solo. White streamers blasted across the stadium as everyone simultaneously lost their minds screaming along. The show ended with “Ain’t It Fun”; the band waved to the crowd as they walked off the stage, and behind-the-scenes footage of the production behind the album played on the screens. They quickly returned for an encore and closed the night with “Still Into You” and their title track for their new record, “This Is Why.”
Throughout their run as a band, Paramore has maintained genre-agnostic while making efforts not to alienate their fanbase. They proved this during their “This Is Why” tour, where they manage to celebrate their new releases and growth as a band while paying homage to fan favourites that have put them on their pedestal as alternative pop-rock icons. Though she stresses their collective identity as a group, it is impossible to take your eyes off of Williams on the stage, not only because of her striking vocals and vibrant dance moves but also because of her kindness towards her fans. Williams, in her own right, is a powerhouse rock star but never intimidating or domineering, which creates a safe space for anyone who comes to their shows. This tour is definitely one I wouldn’t want to miss, so catch it soon when Paramore comes to your area!
Review by Serena Yang.
Photos by Zachary Gray