Real Friends, Grayscale + Belmont, Club Academy, Manchester, 25.10.19 / Louder Live
With winter air drawing in and people staying confined to the warmth of their living rooms, it is often the case that the closing in of winter brings with it an added sense of loneliness and isolation for many searching souls. Combating that notion by inviting each member of their audience into an intimate, familial space to scream along to some hand-crafted pop punk and dance the chills away, are Illinois’ Real Friends. Their shows have a reputation for being safe, inclusive spaces that encourage catharsis and connections to bloom, and their stop-off at Manchester’s Club Academy was no exception!
Opening the night with a flourish of boundless pop punk energy were Chicago‘s Belmont. The nod to tonight’s city of choice in the form of the guitarist’s band-branded Manchester City shirt was much appreciated by the crowd, as were their rollicking guitar lines on tracks such as ‘Pushing Daisies’, and the dash of hardcore grittiness sprinkled across their melodies. The energy they expressed was undeniable, in particular that of vocalist Taz Johnson, who bounded about the stage, red in the face with determination to whip the crowd into shape for the night ahead. Though the room may have been slow to come to the boil initially, by the time the band reached closer ‘Overstepping’, a push-pit at last emerged, at a velocity nobody was quite ready for! Ice effectively broken, it was clear that Belmont will certainly have no issues finding a nook to slide right into in the ever-expanding pop punk realm, undoubtedly picking up friends- and fans- along the way.
If the room appeared reluctant to engage wildly with the opener, one could be forgiven for thinking that Grayscale were in for a fight to win people over. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. From the moment they entered the stage, the crowd erupted, push-pits and swinging arms emerging like breaching whales from the darkness. The synthesis of their set was maintained by the ebbing and flowing of electronic backing tracks, which floated in the background without becoming intrusive, and gave the band all the grandeur and charisma of The 1975: though, thankfully, without the potent whiff of self-importance. On the contrary, the band’s humble honesty shone through each melody, which was bursting with vitality. From the lyrically heart-wrenching but musically elevating ‘In Violet’, to the groove-driven funk of ‘Baby Blue’, each track was built from a painfully bittersweet core, wrapped in danceable layers of sonic candyfloss: a truly uplifting riot of colour and sound!
As if the evening had forgotten how to pause for breath, it was barely fifteen minutes later that the night’s headliners took to the stage: Real Friends. And indeed, they were. The atmosphere in the intimate basement room was like that of a family reunion- not one person was left with a closed mouth or feet that remained on the floor! For a band whose lyrics take on some of the deepest, most intimate elements of frontman Dan Lambton’s psyche, the sheer joy that emanated from the stage in waves was staggering. Arms flew across the room, through the soaring pre-chorus and thundering crescendo of ‘Smiling on the Surface’, via the plaintive, questioning ‘From the Outside’, and into the defiant ‘Composure’, which preached a profoundly affecting message of the attempt to reclaim a sense of inner balance. Every emotion every moment shared between artist and audience with complete transparency. And that sense of family extended even further beyond the crowd, to include some of Real Friends’ musical comrades too: which culminated in Neck Deep’s Ben Barlow surprising everyone, himself included, with an impromptu appearance on guest vocals during ‘Floorboards’! Undoubtedly the night’s highlight, however, was the ever-resonant ‘Mess’. With its fist-pumping chorus and beautifully crafted lyrics, whose simplicity is the key to their raw energy, it was a masterclass in how seemingly scrappy pop punk bands can craft something incredible from their ever-mocked uncomplicatedness. And the song’s crowning glory, the line “don’t need to be perfect, just happy”- that is what brilliant music is truly all about.
Real Friends have a few dates left of their current run with Grayscale and Belmont- dates can be found below:
Check out the video for 'Mess' to get you in the spirit for the show:
Real Friends' latest album, 'Composure', is out now via Fearless Records.