Waterparks + De'Wayne @ Manchester Academy 2, 29.01.20 / Louder Live
It is often said that certain scents, sounds and colours can trigger some of our deepest and most resonant memories, taking us back to a time or place that we have almost forgotten what it was like to live in. For Texan trio Waterparks, and their frontman Awsten in particular, this could not be truer, as each of their recent album cycles has involved a shift in their sound - and, more noticeably, a dramatic shift in the hue of their vocalist’s hair. Having cycled through blue, blonde, and purple in recent years, the band have plunged themselves into the shifting, emerald tones of a new era, which accompanies their latest album release, ‘FANDOM’. Now, they were sharing that new batch of tracks with audiences around the world- and, judging by the fact that this was the first of two sold-out shows in Manchester alone, and by the copious amounts of those in attendance who had joined Awsten in applying green hair dye to their locks, the impact of that record has been greater than any of their releases to date.
Choosing to divide the limelight only in half, bringing just a single support act on the road with them, Waterparks gave genre-fusing De’Wayne first dibs on taking to the stage- and he didn’t just take it, he stormed it with unexpected, but highly welcome, desire. With drums and guitars crammed towards the front of the stage, the intensity of the show was inescapable, as De’Wayne moved from rock to rap, through to house and then hints of bubbly pop. It was an eclectic concoction that reflected his character perfectly, with an unpredictable flow that somehow never faltered. The darkly incendiary ‘Adios’ fell back to back with the off-kilter, gospel-inspired choruses of ‘Family Tree’- as different as chalk and cheese, and yet they offset each other wholly. A dichotomy in every way, in a world of labels and boundaries, the subversive yet unapologetically candid nature of artists like De’Wayne should be celebrated more than ever.
As the sea of green heads grew louder and more excitable, the imminent arrival of Waterparks themselves hung heavy on the air. Otto, Geoff, and Awsten, already three inseparable friends, were ready to reunite with the rest of their mates at last.
More electronic, experimental, and arguably more divisive than any of their works which have gone before it, the band’s latest record ‘FANDOM’ took up the bulk of the setlist. Yet while some may expect the prolific use of backing tracks, synths and computerised sounds to detract from the physical performance onstage, they couldn’t have been more wrong. The perfectly synchronised backdrop and lighting melded seamlessly with the backing tracks, which culminated in a performance that felt far bigger than the stage and room to which it was confined. The sinuous pre-chorus on ‘Watch What Happens Next’ seemed to slink from the cabs across the room, while the candyfloss-like fuzziness of ‘Dream Boy’ was as sickly sweet as it was possible to be. Despite its heavily electronica-influenced core, the band’s landmark single ‘Turbulent’ carried as much swinging weight as it did when it kicked this new era filled with shades of green into life. ‘FANDOM’ may have its naysayers, but live, you could still glimpse that fire and drive borne from Waterparks’ pop punk roots.
However, their swathes of older material were by no means overlooked: bookending their main set was a medley of tracks from their previous two full length releases. The first was a whistle-stop tour through their seminal 2016 record, ‘Double Dare’, which flitted from derision-borne ‘Little Violence' and the punchy, angst-filled ‘Dizzy’, to the positively fizzing ‘Hawaii (Stay Awake)' and light-hearted muser ‘Take Her to the Moon’. The end of the night also paid dividends for those fans desperate for their favourite track to make it’s way on to the setlist, as almost all of Waterparks’ previous record, ‘Entertainment’, was touched upon in the closing minutes. Despite its heartfelt lyrical content, the introduction of ‘Sleep Alone’ brought water to the faces of the crowd in the form of beads of sweat as opposed to tears, as the swirling centre of the room hit fever pitch, and of course, the now idiosyncratic ‘TANTRUM’ was sung with as much gusto as the room could deliver. Revisiting so many previous fan favourites not only speaks to the strength of Waterparks’ discography, but also how beloved their entire back catalogue is by their legions of loyal fans. Playing snapshots of almost every song from their full-length releases could have been seen as a mediating technique to ‘keep everyone happy’, yet it felt nothing like that. On the contrary, the raw joy that was present on every face when they heard those notes and lyrics they had been yearning for was undeniably and powerfully infectious.
Because Waterparks are a band for whom the showmanship matters almost as much as the music itself. Frontman Awsten was every inch the showman, flitting from roaming the stage like a neon-haired panther to chatting to the crowd as warmly and genially as though they were old friends exchanging anecdotes over coffee. Fans pictures were passed up to the stage and displayed proudly amongst the array of amps, and every chant was met with earnest (if at times confused!) smiles and enquiries from the stage. Though some may argue that borrowing a fan’s flashing green comedy glasses during the poignant acoustic love song that is ‘Lucky People’ distracted a little from the ambience of the room, it serves to illustrate the easy-going nature of the relationship that the band have with their fans in person.
And a reminder of just how far they have come in that regard came at the break of the encore, where the usual hubbub from the crowd was silenced by the short film that played on screen at the back of the stage, documenting the band’s journey, both physical and mental, over their past few years of incessant touring and global success. While their genre of pop rock has faced criticism from those who are more streamlined in their musical tastes, it was impossible to deny, watching the footage of sold-out rooms across the globe while surrounded by another gathering of similarly emotional, awestruck young faces, the impact that Waterparks have had on so many young music fans. This is music for them and theirs, and that is what garners it so much praise.
'FANDOM' is out now via Hopeless Records.
Check out the video for 'Easy to Hate', which was directed by Awsten himself, below:
Waterparks still have several dates of this run left across Europe- check out the dates below, any remaining tickets are available here: