Waterparks-min
[Photo by Jawn Rocha]

With the devastating mass cancellations of live shows this past year, artists have been trying to find creative ways to connect with their fans in a safe way. What that means in practice is that we’ve seen a lot of online performances, some better than others, but most self-recorded from artists’ living rooms and studio spaces. The early novelty of an “authentic”-feeling acoustic performance wore off after a while, though, and fans have been craving a way to feel the thrill and movement of a real live show.

WaterparksAnti Tour Performance (coming nowhere near you!), aired exclusively on Veeps March 27, was a welcome tonic to those months of stale bedroom shows. Opening with pitch-black darkness and the sound of singer Awsten Knight’s anxious breathing, it’s reminiscent of the concert and tour DVDs that long ago stopped being a thing. After a while in the darkness—just long enough to get the at-home fans excited—the tinkering synths of FANDOM track “Cherry Red” kick in, the lights come up and the real show begins.

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“What’s up, internet?” shouts a freshly rainbow-haired Knight, laughing a little at the absurdity of the situation. An elaborate set is revealed around the band: trees, bushes, even rogue bicycles litter the stage, like an explosion went off in a Rainforest Cafe. Instantly, with the help of a kinetic handheld camera, it stops feeling like a video you’re watching on your computer and becomes a real show. “Cherry Red” functions as a kind of icebreaker, a fun, short first track that doesn’t feel as stiff as it could under the circumstances. Quickly, Knight leaps into “Watch What Happens Next,” joking “Hands up, bitch! That’s you! That’s all eight of you watching this!”

Knight makes a huge effort to interact with the “audience,” grabbing the handheld camera and asking everyone to sing it back. He’s playful, joking that he’s “happy to be here” and dancing and spinning around the stage throughout “Watch What Happens Next.” Introducing hit “Dream Boy,” he jokes, “What a dope band. Just playing the hits, I see!” All three members—Knight, Geoff Wigington and Otto Wood—seem happy to be back in a version of their reality, laughing as they play. “Get it, Geoff! Get it, Geoff!” Knight laughs.

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Every so often, Knight makes slightly self-conscious acknowledgments that the room is empty: “You at home, get up. I’m serious. I can see you!” he says, laughing, during “Dream Boy,” confronting the elephant in the room. “I’m not going to pretend like there’s not seven people in here. You can clap,” he says to the other people in the room working on the show after the track ends. He laughs hysterically, putting everyone at ease. After all, it’s weird. It’s weird to give an empty room your all, and it’s weird to attend a concert in your living room. But after so much time without live music, it’s also necessary, and once you get over any nerves, it’s a lot of fun. To ignore that weirdness feels like a mistake—we’re all in this together. Let’s laugh, let’s recognize it and then let’s just dance alone at home until we can do it properly. 

On “Telephone,” the band seemed to be having the most fun performing, laughing throughout as green strobe lights flash against the backdrop. “Show the people how hard I’m going despite this being some digital bullshit,” he says, chuckling when he breaks his tone knob, showing everyone else in the room.

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The most exciting moment for fans comes partway through, when the band premiered their new track “Numb,” from their upcoming fourth album, Greatest Hits. “It’s new shit, it’s new shit, you about to hear some new shit!” Knight taunts. Rapping through the verses and screaming through a chorus of “You only like me when I’m numb,” it’s Waterparks at their best: playful, self-effacing and chaotic, offsetting personal lyrics with jokes such as, “My band and I are like Coldplay that’s allowed to say the fuck word.”

Knight breezes through the more difficult vocal parts, and the song fades out after distortion, feedback and screaming before everything goes dark. The quasi-freestyle verses are new territory for Waterparks, and it’s exciting to see how this will play out on the rest of the album. Knight told Alternative Press that it was easy choosing which song to premiere: “‘Numb’ just rips so hard, it made perfect sense. We obviously don’t have a lot of opportunities to do things live right now so this is definitely the best first impression we felt like the song could have.”

For the next track “War Crimes,” Knight forgets what he’s doing and decides to lay down on the floor, which is basically par for the course for a Waterparks show. Just before things get heavy, Knight yells, “Circle pit, fuck up your table, fuck up your parents’ table, fuck up your legal guardians’ table. It’s time to destroy the tables!” before snarling, “God’s favorite fuckin’ boy band!” The screaming parts feel very real, offset against the clean pop choruses. You’d have to be dead inside to not have fucked something up in your house for this one.

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“[Reboot] without the crowd, this will be dope, he said!” Knight laughs, again a little maniacally. It’s a joy in such a painful year to see three artists having so much fun doing what they love: playing music, making fun of themselves and jumping around. On “I Miss Having Sex But At Least I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore,” Knight laughs at his own line about fan death threats as someone laughs off-camera. Less of a risk here than usual, maybe. His awkwardness at going acoustic alone for the sappy song “Lucky People” is pretty clear, too. “Acoustic songs with no crowd singing, this will be dope,” he smiles again, but he gets through it, joking, “The crowd does that part!”

On his anxiety about performing to an empty room, Knight exclusively told Alternative Press that the experience was “so so so weird!” He added, “I normally have the crowd sing a lot and so I was like, ‘Wait, I have to sing ‘Turbulent’ verses? ‘21 Questions?’ ‘[Reboot]?’’ It was so weird to try and remember to sing it all, especially with songs we’ve been doing for a while because my body naturally doesn’t go ‘TIIIIRED OF MY TIIIIIME’ before the last 21Q chorus!”

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A few tracks from Greatest Hits are sprinkled among a set of, uh…greatest hits, including first single “Lowkey As Hell” and an encore of new single, the introspective “Snow Globe.” The band were clearly excited for the new release, joking, “Goddamn, it’s going to be a good one. Greatest Hits, bitch!” Before “wrapping this shit up,” Knight is sure to show the at-home audience the set, urging them to clap for the “romantic forest” and Valentine’s lighting. He jokingly thanks some people (his mom, God, Nerds Clusters) but is clear that he’s grateful: “I wanted to bide time, but I also wanted to say all that so it’s not disingenuous.”

Despite the flashy, intricate set and skillful camerawork, the Waterparks Anti Tour Performance was distinctly unpolished, which is what made it so much fun. It feels like a real show as much as it can—spontaneous, full of jokes, banter between friends, authentic fuck-ups and audience interaction. Until we can have the real thing, Waterparks have nailed the best formula for a stay-home show. It’s accessible, it’s easy and it means that even people who can’t snag tickets in real life or make it to a venue can join in.

Did you tune into the livestream? Tell us your favorite part in the comments below!