Paradise Fears at Webster Hall

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Paradise Fears performing at The Studio at Webster Hall, 1/2/2016

Before describing the evening, it’s important to understand Paradise Fears and their incredibly dedicated fans. Beginning back in high school in Vermillion, South Dakota, lead singer and writer Sam Miller and his friends Cole Andre, Jordan Merrigan, Marcus Sand, Michael Walker, and Lucas Zimmerman released two EPs before taking a gap year to work in order to fund their first full length LP. This album, 2011’s Yours Truly, sold 24,000 records, peaking at number 9 on Billboard’s “Uncharted” chart. After gaining traction opening for All Time Low and The Cab in 2011, they began releasing covers on YouTube, launching them to further acclaim with videos amassing millions of views. When asked what makes fans of Paradise Fears love them so much (enough to wait outside on a frigid New York evening for hours, which I’ll get to), so many said “relatability”. The lyrics and moods captured in the sounds of Paradise Fears accurately portray the, well, fears really, that we all face at one time or another. The music is incredibly personal, a fact which Sam alluded to myriad times throughout the evening.

Onto the evening at hand…

Arriving at Webster Hall an hour before doors seemed like a good idea, both for space and atmosphere (and at the encouragement of my excited +1). This idea was apparently shared by half of The Studio’s capacity, with the line trailing around the corner by the time we arrived around 6pm. Many of those near the front had been there for hours already, despite the windy 25 degree temperature (I checked). Yet nobody was complaining; instead their anticipation to see this band that they had been waiting for and loved forever and driven or even flown to see kept them all warm, along with their excited bouncing-in-place motions.

Being in line for an hour, you get to overhear quite a bit of conversation (and, as a reporter, people watching is always of interest). This was how I came to discover both how long some people had been in line, and also just how far some of these fans came; some from California, Minnesota, and New York (hey, it’s a big state).

We all entered to a smoky stage, with an interesting variation of pre-show music. There was an unexpected opening performer whose name I didn’t catch (and didn’t quite care to pursue) who began the show more than 25 minutes late, eliciting an ironic play of the Talking Heads’ “Cross-eyed and Painless” by the FOH engineer. But as David Byrne and co. sung the line “I’m Still Waiting” to the point of absurdity, the sea of dedicated young fans just patiently waited, chatting under the bluish hue of the lights.

When Sam and co. took the stage, joined again by original drummer Lucas Zimmerman, the whole venue shook (literally, it’s an old building) with excitement. And with “Where To Begin”, the magic flowed through their instruments and into the newly empowered crowd, with every single fan in the room (parents included) singing along word for word. The set list wove brilliantly from roaring pop rock anthems to smoothly romantic and reminiscent ballads, with Sam’s voice continuously supported by the 400 loyal fans in attendance. On “Back to Life”, the mic was turned to the crowd for more than a full stanza, and their harmonies never missed a beat.

Beyond the screaming fans who’ve dedicated their time to memorizing every word of an album released only a month earlier, the greatest takeaway of the evening was how genuine everything felt. That, ultimately, is what makes Paradise Fears so relatable, and so successful. If asked to describe the atmosphere, I could really only say “positive”; everything about the show was either fun as hell or hopeful, despite many of the realities discussed in poetic lyrics. Even the bartenders couldn’t resist – When Sam asked “Anyone never heard of us before?”, their hands shot up before continuing to dance wildly and sing along anyway, making up the words to not feel left out and repeating any choruses they caught.

The night even had a guest appearance of sorts from Ace Enders of The Early November, who came out to sing on Stories in the Dark, a song that Sam believes is “the most important song we’ve ever written”. After this song the whole crowd began chanting “Sammy”, leading both to more jokes and another moment of realism and clarity through the mystical haze of the night as he admits that though Paradise Fears songs often come from internal feelings of confusion and self-hatred, he felt really, really good in that moment, on stage, with his closest friends.

By the time the show was winding down, the passion of the band and their fans was enough to draw in at least another 30 guests who’d been clubbing upstairs in the Marlin Room. Playing straight through for nearly two hours, the band clearly gave it their all, sharing both the moment and the history behind their songs as Sam talks about writing songs like “Reunion”, and how many of their songs actually begin as a narrative, some of which can be combined for a story block of sorts, like “Sleep”, “Who You Are”, and “Yours Truly”.

Between “Lullaby”, “Sanctuary”, and finally “Battle Scars”, the audience never stopped singing, and never stopped dreaming. It may sound like an exaggeration, but everyone in that room legitimately knew every word, and I can say without a doubt that Paradise Fears could have packed and rocked the Marlin Room upstairs with nearly twice the capacity.

It’s clear that Paradise Fears is ready and eager for more, and with their humility and self-awareness, their fans will follow and support them every step of the way. I’m glad to have been a part of this frame in their ever growing highlight reel, and wish the band the best.

Paradise Fears’ latest LP, Life In Real Time, available now

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