While this year's installment of the Honda Civic Tour felt more like an obscene barrage of advertisements (complete with a pamphlet about credit-building that targeted a very young audience), the bands were chosen wisely, mixing newcomers Kadawatha with veterans New Found Glory and Tegan and Sara, and cake-takers Paramore. Filing in as New Found Glory was finishing, a glimpse at the stage not surprisingly revealed the band pogoing in front of giant, obnoxious pictures of their own faces.
Half an hour later, elders Tegan and Sarah -- who turn the ripe old age of thirty next week -- wandered on to the dim stage as the tribal beat of Animal Collective's "My Girls" came through the speakers. The usually charming duo seemed subdued, but their self-aware humor still came through as they cracked jokes about being Justin Beiber look-alikes and bad dancers between songs like "19," "I Bet It Stung," "Walking With a Ghost" and "Alligator."
The pair reminisced understatedly that their last visit to Red Rocks was over a decade ago, opening for Neil Young, making it painfully clear Tegan and Sara just may have been too established for the bill. Regardless, they humbly played with heart and force, the sisters' gorgeous harmonies taking advantage of the natural acoustics.
After a series of commercials, a curtain dropped from the rafters and a booming pre-recorded voice announced Paramore's entrance. Flashes of light from behind the black fabric illuminated silhouettes of the band, falling to reveal Hayley Williams in her fiery glory, dressed in a modified Girl Scout uniform with a back flap and a sash of badges.
While she tore through opener "Ignorance," Williams's adoring audience mimicked her every word, the waves of chorus-chanting girls overpowering her vocals. "Feeling Sorry" "That's What You Get" and "For a Pessimist, I'm Pretty Optimistic " were highlighted by lots of head banging, hair whipping and fist pumping from Williams, all eyes following the tiny leader as she bounded off of monitors and stage ramps.
Even with individual shots of the bandmembers projected on five screens by cameras placed awkwardly on mike stands, they still felt like a flat, colorless backdrop to the Hayley Williams show. Her expertly trained voice fluttered through "Playing God" and "Decode" before settling into a mini-acoustic set, beginning with a beautiful version of Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough (to Take my Man)." A couch was rolled onto the stage for "When It Rains," "Where the Lines Overlap" and "Misguided Ghost," the muted instrumentation again proving Williams to be the source of Paramore's power.
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Between songs, the legions of mostly female fans screamed, "I love you, Hayley!" triggering a wealth of smiles and parade waves from the happy singer. "Crushcrushcrush" and "Looking Up" began to sew up the show, with Williams introducing each bandmember before closing with the splendid "The Only Exception," cell phones illuminating the crowd as it carried the chorus to the end.
As I wandered away from Red Rocks, the faint sounds of "Brick by Boring Brick" and "Misery Business" echoed from the amphitheater for Paramore's encore.
Six years into the group's career, there is no question Paramore's star will continue to rise. However, seeing the Tennessee band live further prompts the question: Does Williams even need these dudes? I don't think so.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I have a soft spot for Hayley Williams, strictly based on her Gwen Stefani stage routine. Random Detail: Williams wore what looked to be a homemade "Brand New Eyes" tank top, in tribute to Paramore's latest album. By the Way: The whole show was worth Williams's Loretta Lynn tribute alone.