Review By Jessie Fitzpatrick
Last Sunday, the line to the Forum snaked all the way into Hosier Lane and beyond, with no end in sight. Passers-by stared at the colourfully-dressed crowd and the endless line, as I saw first-hand the demand that Australian fans have for genre-blending pop/rock trio Waterparks.
The packed crowd was ecstatic, as support-act Lights (Canadian electro-pop/rock artist Valerie Poxleitner) opened in a sweeping, cinematic fashion with rock number Salt and Vinegar. Lights captured the audience immediately, with strong vocals and melodies that managed to feel both nostalgic and fresh (a talent shared with the headliner, Waterparks). Throughout her set, Lights seamlessly moved from electro pop, to rock, to alt pop. The following number, Siberia, was a distinctly early 2010s indie pop song – but her performance felt timeless, as she added in a new line to the lyric “we'll leave Canada for Siberia” – “or Australia”.
Lights excelled at bringing the audience along for a journey. She transitioned from guitar, to keys, and back to singing while dancing non-stop, moving straight into Dead End, which again captured a different side of her vocals. Even when a looped track of her voice played in the background of the song, her live vocals sounded phenomenal. An audience member handed her a flower, and she put it in her pocket, the red petals falling around the stage as she danced. After hyping up the crowd, Lights shifted to a sadder song, Beside Myself. People got out their phone lights and began to sway slowly, but the pace of the song gradually increased – leading Lights to comment that “people here have way better time than North America”. Her set ended in a crescendo of sound, and left the audience on a high, full of anticipation for the headline act.
Waterparks began their set in a flurry of energy, as lead singer and rhythm guitarist Awsten Knight arrived on stage in what appeared to be a Bunnings hat over his bright pink hair (foreshadowing a night of jokes about Australian accents and culture from the Houston-originated band), accompanied by lead guitarist Geoff Wigington, and drummer Otto Wood. Each band member’s energetic stage presence was immediately infectious, as the band launched into Rare, singing “I save my metaphors for rainy days……cause we're not seventeen, but you're my teenage dream”. The cleverness and self-awareness behind these lyrics highlighted a strong knowledge of their pop-punk and pop rock predecessors and influences. Otto paused his steady drumming to highlight a slow guitar riff from Geoff, and I felt the floor move as the crowd jumped in response to Geoff spinning in a circle on stage alongside Awsten, creating an electrifying atmosphere.
Waterparks (or in particular, Awsten) were one of the chattiest acts I had seen in a long time. Awsten reminisced about a previous concert in Australia where the band performed for about 100 people in a tiny attic (“now we get to play in air-conditioned venues!”), before they transitioned into fan-favourite, Stupid for you. Stupid for you is a song of a juvenile love, undercut with adult tones. With lyrics such as “you're a symphony, I'm just a sour note”, I felt like it belonged in an early 2000s high school comedy in the best way, maybe in the prom scene. When Awsten sang the chorus, the sound of the audience harmonising complimented his voice perfectly, and he joked “you guys sound great – have you been practising?”. It had been 6 years since Waterparks’ last visit to Australia (“I’ll take a boo for that…we had a tour planned for 2020, something happened but I forgot what” Awsten joked). The Melbourne show was their 4th show in a row without a day off, and although the band was upfront about being tired, you couldn’t notice - their energy remained unwavering, as Brainwashed showed off Awsten‘s vocal range, combining mellower instrumentals with verses that leaned towards being a rap.
Waterparks continued to showcase their musical versatility, as they debuted their new song Sneaking Out of Heaven, “before America or Canada have heard it”. This felt particularly special for the adoring Melbourne audience. Sneaking Out of Heaven started strong and packed a punch. The snappy track seamlessly integrated into their discography - this is a new release to watch out for. This was followed by more of the band’s camaraderie on display, as they played Two Best Friends - an autobiographical song about the band’s friendship, as the three bandmates rocked out together to the sound of a steady bass drum.
Their performance of Magnetic took on a more intense turn, with the fast-paced vocals melding with the heaviness of the drums. Awsten’s deliberate movements and stage presence was captivating, as the sci-fi sound effects on the backing track added an eerie ambiance to the song.
“Do you want to hear a song I used to practise in the mirror at my parent’s house in Houston?”, Awsten asked the audience, as he launched into Royal. In another pivot from some of Waterparks’ more light hearted pop-punk tracks, this song commanded a focused energy. Awsten then conspiratorially told the crowd that “the percussion layer in the song is us [the bandmates] kissing Otto’s stomach - you can hear it if you listen to the song with headphones”.
Awsten seemed chuffed as he told the audience about the band's song Telephone being featured in an episode of the TV series, Heartstopper, as he coyly sang the hopeful lyrics. The set then pivoted to a short burst of acoustic numbers - 21 Questions showcased a different genre and mood , and called attention to Awsten’s guitar expertise. In Dizzy, Awsten haunted the stage alone, as he sang the lyrics “I don’t hear from my friends anymore”. Lucky People saw the crowd illuminating the venue with their phone lights. These solo performances were a poignant interlude amid many fast-paced numbers. Then, Geoff and Otto returned to the stage with cheers from the crowd, and the band jumped into the self-referential REAL SUPER DARK. Awsten pretended to stumble around the stage, as the lighting became dream-like. Waterparks certainly knew how to capture a mood.
The crowd had been waiting for the band to play their highest-streamed song, I Miss Having Sex But at Least I Don't Wanna Die Anymore, and Waterparks delivered. They sounded even better live, with the band in perfect alignment. The concert concluded on a high note, leaving the audience elated and relishing in the humour and musical magic of Waterparks.