Is Paramore The Future of the Music Business?

With a successful CD and sold-out national tour, Paramore is the band of the moment. Their only area show attracted minivans brimming with teenaged girls and their wary chaperones, all prepared to stand in line for hours in subfreezing weather for the best seats. 

Most everyone went home happy, as the band played a solid set of punk-influenced pop-rock.   If Paramore is to become more than a TRL flavor du jour, their Worcester Palladium show Saturday proved a good start. 

Though unused to headlining (it’s their first time out topping the bill), lead singer Haley Williams and her mates were more than comfortable in the spotlight.  Their material doesn’t break much new ground, mainly contemplating love – lost (show opener “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic”), found (“Born for This”) or stolen (“Misery Business”).

Plenty of things set Paramore apart from the emo band crowd, however.  They write clever, dagger-sharp lyrics, as when the boyfriend thief in “Misery Business” snarls “I’ve got a body like an hourglass/ticking like a clock,” then claims humbly she “never meant to brag.”  They mix it up musically, too.  “Let the Flames Begin” was a particular highlight, featuring deft key changes and furious guitar solos. 

More than that, they took the stage with a professionalism that could have worked as well in a hockey rink as it did in the dilapidated former movie house.  Flanked onstage by oversized lithographs, with a jumbo screen above them punctuating their set like an MTV video back in the day, Paramore was both visually arresting and musically challenging.  It’s easy to imagine them on the same arc as No Doubt and Evanescence, two other female-fronted bands that made the move from the bars to the big houses.

Lead singer Hayley Williams is a seasoned performer at the mere age of 17; she bantered easily with the audience, and made acrobatic stage moves. It’s worth noting just how well behaved the crowd was.  Burly security guards at the edge of the stage picked up crowd-surfing fans and set them down gently, like they were stacking boxes of dishes at Target.  The whole experience was safe enough to ease parental worries.  The show’s sponsor, Helio, was more than likely gratified to see hundreds of glowing cell phone screens, as Mom and Dad sent and received text messages from their moppets in the front rows. 

Paramore pulled off a difficult balancing act. They’re not as daring as Fall Out Boy or the Disturbed, but they’re definitely not Disney material either.  With any luck (and Hayley Williams’ not-inconsiderable charm), their fans will grow up with them. 

One had the sense that Saturday’s crowd hadn’t been to very many shows by other bands.  Paramore is indicative of a trend in the business.  Niche performers court fans by putting together competitively-priced package tours with other like-minded bands.   

Saturday’s show featured two such groups, though they were unfortunately victimized by a bad sound mix.

Most of their vocals were drowned in a wall-of-guitar sonic fury.   The Almost showed the most promise – Kenny Bozich’s drumming was quite impressive – but neither his band nor the Starting Line managed to rise above the noise. 

Many in the audience, however, were obviously in tune with both opening acts, singing along to songs they’d heard online (the Almost claims over ten million MySpace plays alone) and buying t-shirts and CDs at the break.  They may have come to see Paramore, but they paid attention to everything going on at the concert.

That’s in direct contrast to most arena shows, where whatever happens before the headliner is lost in the din of ushers and beer vendors.  Such nights are always about the headliner.

It was reminiscent of a time when casual fans went to more than one or two shows a year.  Outlets like OzzFest and the Vans Warped Tour (which gave Paramore their first big national boost), are spawning hundreds of shows at places like the Palladium, Higher Ground in Burlington and Mark’s Showplace in Bedford.   

Good music at a fair price – if this is the future of the music business, then it’s definitely encouraging.

Local Rhythms – Try Some Promotion

I’d like you to try an experiment.  Locate a teenager.  Son, daughter, nephew or the kid who shovels your driveway, it doesn’t really matter – as long as they’re a music fan.  Look for kids who tend to wear lots of t-shirts with names you don’t recognize.

Or an iPod – that’s another good clue.

Ask them to name their favorite bands.  Chances are, they’ll recite a pretty long list.  

OK, here’s the fun part – try to locate some of them.

Time was, every town had a record store.  These days, there’s Music Matters and Newbury Comics in West Lebanon; for most of us, though, big box stores like Wal-Mart or Best Buy are it.   

After fighting traffic and steadily growing weary of clerk’s blank stares, you’ll buy a gift card.  Worth one, perhaps two items on a young fan’s holiday list.

On the other hand, purchasing credit at an online music store – iTunes is the most popular, but by no means the only one – means more variety and bang for the buck. 

The record business is floundering because there aren’t many good albums.  But there are a lot of good songs, and for that, a la carte is where it’s at.

Hold the power ballad – I’ll take a double order of rock steady. 

Of course, this doesn’t exactly sit well with the folks making – er, selling the music.  Jermaine Dupree, an industry executive, excoriated iTunes recently.  The latest release from Dupree’s client Jay-Z is available online, but only as a “complete work.”

He compared selling music by the track to hawking torn-off pieces of an Andy Warhol painting.   

It’s odd that Dupree cites Warhol, as the ubiquity of his work – prints, magazine covers, t-shirts, postcards – is a big reason why it’s so familiar today.

“Tearing a corner” from a musical masterpiece (though I have a hard time thinking of “American Gangster” in such terms) doesn’t alter the work.  It’s not like there’s only one painting.  You can buy the whole thing if you wish, and I’ll just grab a song – which may whet my appetite for more. 

It’s called consumer choice.  For some, though, the concept of free markets is hard to grasp.

Dupree also complained that “books aren’t sold by the chapter.”  He’s right.  The Internet, with no printing or mailing costs, makes it infinitely easier to give it away.  Check out the New York Times Book Review, and you’ll find a link with most write-ups. 

That, Mr. Dupree, is called promotion.   You should try it sometime.

What’s happening in the coming days? 

Wednesday: Handel’s Messiah, Hopkins Center – With the holiday shopping season underway, it’s a good time to remember what a good many people are celebrating.  First performed in Dublin in 1742, this edition of Handel’s Messiah is particularly special, with celebrated German conductor Helmuth Rilling leading the Handel Society.  If there’s a chorale sample more ubiquitous than “Hallelujah,” I haven’t heard it. 

Thursday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – Since introducing live music 18 months ago, this downtown Claremont restaurant has found its sweet spot is jazz.  Of all the combos that pass through, Rosen’s is probably my favorite.  These four musicians possess a breathtaking ability to communicate, trading solos and finding infectious grooves with ease.  Good jazz remakes the familiar into something surprising and new, and they have that in spades. 

Friday: Spare Change Bluegrass Band, Salt Hill 2 –Joe Stallsmith’s name comes up a lot in the history of area music.  He fronts a few different bands; this one has an old time feel and features some incredible picking.  The three-piece – guitar, mandolin and fiddle – moves from Nashville to Texas, with a long walk along the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Fire up the Orange Blossom special, and enjoy some Americana.

Saturday: Mighty Sam McClain, Blow-Me-Down Grange Hall – This should be a lot of fun.  McClain, who lives in Southern New Hampshire, sings soul with abandon, backed by a seven piece band that will rattle the walls of this venerable Plainfield building.  His music earned him Grammy nominations and appearances on TV shows like “Ally McBeal.”   

Sunday: Area Choir, Newport Congregational Church – This event (with one performance Saturday and two Sunday), brings together the best voices from churches throughout the region for a Christmas sing.  It’s always a seasonal highlight, featuring not-so-often-heard hymns along with holiday favorites, when those in the pews are invited to join in.  There’s no admission charge, but a donation is welcome. 

Tuesday: Alejandro Escovedo, Boccelli’s – One of the more luminous acts to play downtown Bellows Falls, Escovedo has a widely varied background.  He was an early progenitor of punk in the late ‘70’s with the Nuns, then moved on to country rock with Rank and File.  Always a step ahead of the rest, his latest release, “Boxing Mirror,” reflects a spiritual awakening – but he’ll still play “I Wanna Be Your Dog” in concert.