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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Good recovery from Paramore : The pop-punkers look at the world through brand-new eyes in a moody makeup show.

November 13, 2009|August Brown

Toward the end of Paramore's Wednesday night set at the Hollywood Palladium, singer Hayley Williams swiped a pair of black plastic-frame eyeglasses from someone in the front row and put them on. "Do these make me look edgy?" she asked, cheekily, as the effect -- coupled with her newly platinum tresses -- was much more freshman art-school crush than anything especially dangerous.

But the question of edginess is one Paramore's been asking lately. Its latest album, "Brand New Eyes," has vaulted the very young band off the pop-punk axis and into the ever-thinner ranks of top-selling mainstream rock acts in America, one of even fewer that is fronted by a young woman. It's not a dark album, but it is a serious one, as Williams' gym-class sass and her band's expert, straightforward emo have grown into moody musings about post-breakup abandonment, the trials of modern religious faith and the fraught band dynamics that almost split Paramore up.

In that sense, simultaneously gunning for the upper reaches of Billboard with "Eyes" might have been the edgiest thing Paramore's done yet.

Wednesday's set was a makeup date for last month's Palladium show, postponed after Williams' voice gave out. She's recovered nicely and showed a welcome eagerness to hit high notes that she might have turned over to the crowd in years past. Williams has a rangy, expressive rock voice that doesn't really have a peer on radio -- she doesn't bludgeon you with long runs or sound self-consciously gruff like Pink or Kelly Clarkson.

Her vocal appeal is in the way she breaks off phrases, like how she'll let her Tennessee drawl out for a brief syllable or two on the poison-pen single "Ignorance."

This complements the band's new wide-lens take on their arrangements. Both of Paramore's Farro brothers -- guitarist Josh and drummer Zac -- notably stepped up their playing on "Eyes," and it carried over live. The band has mastered both the furtive, D.C.-post-punk writhe of such cuts as "Careful," along with the more tender, blown-out mid-tempo pleas like "Turn It Off."

The members of Paramore have always seemed comfortable on big stages, but now they truly sound and look as if they belong there -- not to mention their newfound interest in some fairly intricate lighting and set design.

Juxtaposed with the earnest teen-noir of their "Twilight" soundtrack cut "Decode" and breakout single "Misery Business," the sheer improvement of craft evident on the new material is striking and suggests lots of possibilities for where the band could move next. Even an acoustic encore, a usually eye-rolling gesture for a rock band, felt like a playful and true read on the song "Misguided Ghosts."

Now, to address the scandal of what happened to Williams' trademark orange hair. There's been plenty of message-board garment-rending over her new bleached-out look. But nothing a band at this level does is unintentional, so it's easy to imagine that Williams' bleach job was a purifying ritual of sorts, a dip in the pop-punk Ganges to rid oneself of post-adolescence.

Or, of course, it could just be a sign of a mood swing by one of rock's most long-term-promising young stars. Whatever it means (or doesn't), it was a reminder that, even barely out of their teens, the members of Paramore are already transforming. In such dire and weird times for mainstream rock, that's awfully edgy indeed.


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