Paramore / Jack’s Mannequin / Phantom Planet / Paper Route @ Asbury Park 8/16

August 18, 2008

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in New Jersey’s newly renovated shore community, Asbury Park, the line for Paramore’s The Final Riot! Tour extended for blocks down the boardwalk. Young teenage girls (many with their parents) waited patiently until 6PM for the Convention Center doors to open; a sign on the building reads “Greetings from Asbury Park”, a  nod to Bruce Springsteen, perhaps welcoming those parents who grew up on listening to the legend.

Unfortunately, the Convention Center isn’t a great place to see a show: the floor space is enormous, holding at least 3500, and the sound is poor. Fortunately, however, headliners Paramore and direct-support Jack’s Mannequin are two bands that sound great regardless of the venue. Each band normally puts on a tremendous show; expectations for these two acts were extremely high entering the aging Convention Center.

Nashville’s Paper Route, an extremely dry act with spacey guitars, swooning vocals, and handful of keyboards, opened the evening at 7PM. It’s bland, it’s boring, and it’s been done over the last decade by many other acts who do it much, much better. The band’s sole shining point, though, is drummer JT Daly who kept the band at least somewhat palatable with exciting drum rhythms throughout most of the set.

Phantom Planet took the stage next. The band, around for nearly fifteen years, put on a solid show that was at least entertaining for the half hour or so they were on stage. Twenty-eight year old vocalist/guitarist Alex Greenwald leads Phantom Planet with a certain charisma that carries the band despite their lack of any genuinely interesting songs, somehow connecting with an audience half his age. After four or five songs the band closed with their Al Jolson inspired “California”, the soundtrack to an MTV generation raised on Fox’s The OC. The band played the song well, giving the crowd a chance to sing their hearts out the entire time.

Andrew McMahon

Jack's Mannequin frontman Andrew McMahon during "La La Lie", a song he dedicated to "best friends".

Direct-support Jack’s Mannequin came on next, opening with “I’m Ready”. Although the band played a blazingly quick set (just about forty minutes), they managed to pack a punch during their brief time on stage. Still, it’s unfortunate that the band didn’t get more time, as they clearly shine as headliners–when band leader Andrew McMahon has time to interact with the crowd. “Kill The Messenger” received slightly new treatment, dropping an old live-only verse for a few lines from The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”; the stellar “Dark Blue” was noticeably without its live-only intro. Standard closer “MFEO” received the same U2 treatment as always (lines from “With or Without You”), but the song was shortened up a bit, removing the usual band introductions and solos during the song’s end. “The Resolution”, a song from the upcoming The Glass Passenger, was strong and fit into the older catalog surprisingly well. The band’s set:

I’m Ready
La La Lie
Dark Blue
Kill the Messenger
The Resolution
The Mixed Tape

It’s fair to say Paramore exploded onto the stage and didn’t stop all night. A few choice acoustic and piano-driven moments aside, the band hit hard for over an hour. Billed as The Final Riot! Tour, it’s not surprising (and extremely satisfying) that the band’s setlist was extremely Riot!-heavy. Pop-rock/arena-rock hasn’t sounded this tight or this good in a long time; whereas most pop-rock bands are bland, gimmicky, and unfulfilling, Paramore does everything right. The stage setup was complete with a glowing “RIOT” sign hung in the rafters and a ramp platform for the band members to run up and down on.

Opening with solo spotlights on guitarist Josh Farro (up on the ramp), and then the rest of the band until vocalist Hayley Williams, Paramore began with Riot! closer “Born for This”, a track that set the tone for the next hour. Partially inspired by Refused’s “Liberation Frequency” (“we want the airwaves back”), the band may play pop-rock but is clearly influenced by great hardcore acts. Drummer Zac Farro’s beats aren’t basic and empty; he’s actively doing over-the-top fills and double-bass drumlines. “Here We Go Again”, regularly infused with part of At the Drive-In’s “One Armed Scissor”, received the same treatment tonight–the results were great, as always. The band also briefly touched on Leonard Cohen’s incredible “Hallelujah” before jumping into their song of the same name (no relation).

Vocalist Hayley Williams

Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams, singing in front of drummer Zac Farro. (Photo by Jen Pero)

Things slowed down through parts of the set when Hayley sits down with a keyboard on songs like “We Are Broken”, dedicated to Love146, a charity aimed to abolish child sex trafficking. Josh Farro and touring guitarist Taylor York picked up acoustic guitars for “My Heart”, a nice rendition of All We Know is Falling‘s closing track. It’s actually incredible to see how much the band progressed from that 2005 effort to 2007’s Riot!; songs like “Pressure” and “Emergency”, standouts from their 2005 debut, feel empty and hollow compared to most of the band’s latest work, though that isn’t to say the older material isn’t still solid.

Paramore’s final riot was fifteen songs, with two encores. The band first stepped off stage after “For A Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic”, returning to play three more songs. “Misery Business”, the second encore and band’s biggest single, closed the show.

Born For This
That’s What You Get
Here We Go Again
Let the Flames Begin
When it Rains
My Heart
For A Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic
We Are Broken
Misery Business

It was a bit awkward being around quite so many young girls and parents the whole evening, and the “pits” opened for some of Paramore’s faster songs may have been the funniest things I saw all weekend. Still, the band put on an incredible show and continues to prove why they lead the pop-rock pack, faltering only once all night: an extremely awkward (and luckily, extremely brief) cover of Flo-Rida’s “Low” tossed into “CrushCrushCrush”. From a mostly pitch-perfect Hayley to a completely tight band behind her, it’s hard not to recommend The Final Riot! Tour, especially with Jack’s Mannequin as direct-support.