By Max Modell
A chorus of pop-punk rising from the audience greeted me as I entered Y Plas in preparation for seeing Waterparks. This set the tone for the evening as the first of the two support acts had yet to come on and the crowd were already amped. It was a mix of teens and those who wish they could be teens again, such a youthful energy radiated from the crowd. As the first support, Dead! came on I was shocked to discover how young the audience around me really was, teenage screaming filled Y Plas. While this made me feel a little out of place I took it as a good omen, from my experience Cardiff audiences are notoriously difficult to pump up and an energetic crowd it vital for the pop-punk experience.
However, as the evening built towards Waterparks, my expectations had yet to be fulfilled. Both support acts were middling at best. Dead! were tight but rather pretentious in their insistence on taking their moody brand of grungy rock incredibly seriously. This would have been acceptable if they had the charisma to pull it off or something new to offer, but instead, they came off as self-indulgent and shallow. They were followed by American pop punk band Patent Pending. This was definitely an interesting and mostly enjoyable experience. Originally forming in 2001 their stage experience was clear, and they knew how to put on a show. However, they often felt over enthusiastic with frontman Joe Ragosta feeling like a really embarrassing Dad running some children’s entertainment. This actually worked surprisingly well with the pop-punk vibe, but sadly the songwriting, vocals and instrumentation didn’t match up to the energy levels. This left Patent Pending enjoyable in a somewhat ironic way, they weren’t good, but they were a lot of fun and after all they weren’t the main event, only the warm up and they did a fantastic job of warming up the crowd.
Following the supports, there was a small break as the stage was set for Waterparks. Any regular gig attendee will know this is par for the course and during this period warm-up music is blasted through the speakers to prepare the crowd for what is to come. This music is usually in a similar genre to the main act and designed to build the audience up, but not allow the mood to peak until the headline band walk on stage. However, as was becoming the case for the evening my expectations were subverted as instead a barrage of pop music filled the room. There were tracks from Taylor Swift, One Direction and of all things High School Musical! But most surprisingly of all, the crowd absolutely loved it. Of course, there were laughs of bemusement and people standing hands in pocket complaining this wasn’t their thing but the chorus of voices I had arrived to returned, just this time louder and singing “We’re soaring, flying. There’s not a star in heaven that we can’t reach”. However, this chorus eventually subsided and turned to screams as the music faded and Waterparks walked on stage.
They opened the show with ‘11:11’ off their new album ‘Entertainment’ which I had mostly enjoyed, but as soon as they started playing, problems with their live set up became apparent. Firstly, the desire for volume had left the vocals significantly overpowered in the mix and often inaudible, contributing to one of the worst live mixes I’ve heard at a professional gig. However, when they did manage to break through the mix, Awsten Knight’s vocals left a lot to be desired. Beyond this, the tight instrumentation of the two previous bands was missing, especially on tracks from Entertainment which still felt new and under-rehearsed. On top of this there was another incredibly puzzling problem, the lack of a bass player. Now, I know they are a three piece and don’t have a full-time bassist, however, the decision not to hire a touring one confused me greatly. This is because the lack of bass led to a lack of texture and the mix sounding rather muddy. The absence was felt even stronger after they performed ‘Peaches (Lobotomy)’ with the bass on a backing track. While this infuriated the musical purist within me I had to admit it added so much more power to their sound and brought the performance together.
Sadly, this was not the end of the production flaws. Midway through the set Awsten performed a solo ballad, ‘Lucky People’. This is a really good, upbeat, feel-good song worthy of the Disney Channel, one of my favourites from the new album. Yet despite this opportunity for a raw Awsten to win me back it instead exposed his vocal failings and poor guitar playing further. The guitar sounded very tinny and was played with no purpose. Despite these technical problems and my own misgivings, the crowd were loving it and I have to admit when they were going balls to the wall on the heavier tracks I couldn’t help but have a good time with them and isn’t that the whole point? Removing my music snob hat there was a lot to like about the show. Unlike Dead! they didn’t take themselves too seriously and made the show a lot of fun with energy, fun crowd interactions and random Starbucks anecdotes. Plus, the tunes are still great. While I struggle to recommend Waterparks as a live act, I was in a room full of people who could overlook all the problems I found and just have a really good time, if you can do that then you’ll have a great time with this band live. Plus, I would still recommend checking out their records, their debut ‘Double Dare’ is a lot of fun and while not quite hitting the same heights, ‘Entertainment’ is a solid record and one of the better albums I have heard so far this year in what has been a lacklustre beginning to 2018 musically speaking.