There is no place I feel more at home than in a room filled with hundreds of complete strangers singing along to the songs that have gotten us through the most difficult times in our lives. For those few hours, though, we are not strangers – we are family. Never I have felt more at home than I did while attending a Real Friends show in Tampa, Florida recently.
The crazy thing about pop punk shows is no matter how intense the lyrics and music are, you will ultimately feel safe. You know that if you fall, literally or figuratively, someone is going to catch you. The passion that you experience is impossible to put into words, but I guess for everyone’s sake, I will try.
The night was filled mostly with bands that were unknown to me, but that didn’t matter. Some of my favorite memories come from going basically blind into a show, and that’s exactly what this show was for me. The openers, Have Mercy and Cruel Hand, were beyond anything that I could have imagined.
As I listened to Have Mercy go through their short set, I couldn’t help but compare them to The Dangerous Summer. Even though TDS was as far from pop punk as you could get, both bands possessed the same raw intensity. Lead vocalist, Brian Swindle, has a deep, gritty voice that cuts straight to the core of your soul. Their powerful and thought provoking lyrics were balanced out with plenty of humor in between songs. Guitarist Andrew Johnson supplied the crowd with many jokes, including referring to the members of Neck Deep as “every bond villain.”
Cruel Hand was another band that very much impressed me. While they cannot, by any means, be categorized into the pop punk genre, it didn’t throw off the balance of the show at all. Even before they took the stage, a circle pit had already formed and kids were dancing. They were the first band that I had ever watched that actually encouraged people to come on stage with them, and that just added to the family dynamic that was present throughout the entire night.
Neck Deep was the one band, other than Real Friends, that I was familiar with, and since I missed their set on Warped Tour, I was excited to finally see them. The one aspect of their set that truly stands out to me is the shear excitement the crowd had for this band. The second vocalist Ben Barlow grabbed the mic, the crowd pushed forward to be as close to him as possible. There were moments when the sound of the crowd singing overpowered the speakers. It was so comforting to see a band so greatly appreciated by a group of people. My favorite moment of their set, and one that still gives me chills just thinking about it, was when they performed “Part Of Me.” If you aren’t familiar, this song contains very little instrumentals. It mainly consists of Barlow and an acoustic guitar. The recorded version of the track is absolutely stunning, but to hear it live was an experience. Towards the end of the song, there are guest vocals by Laura Whiteside, but she was not present on the tour to sing them. So, when it was time for that part, you could tell the band had just planned on it being completely instrumental, but the crowd had different plans in mind. They filled in where Whiteside couldn’t, and the moment was breathtaking. The look on Barlow’s face was beautiful and you could tell he was floored by it all. You can check out the performance at the end.
The night was already worth having to drive three hours to get to the venue even before the band I came to see had taken stage. By the time Real Friends broke out into “I’ve Given Up On You” I was on cloud nine, and there was no coming down from that. This was the first time since Warped Tour that I was hearing their new music performed live and you can’t help but get emotional watching them. If I could only use one word to describe these five guys, that word would definitely be “passionate.” There is no denying the passion they possess. Also, the fact that they are allowing you to witness some of the darkest parts of themselves makes for a deeper connection.
One thing that still resonates with me from that night is the spoken word poetry by bassist Kyle Fasel that was played between songs every so often. Fasel is a genius when it comes to composing words, but that is evident in the words you hear in every Real Friends song. Most of the time, when these poems were played over the loud speaker, the crowd barely seemed to pay attention, but I sure did. Many of the poems consisted of lines from their songs, and seeing that they could easily be combined to make up something entirely new shows just how good Fasel is with his writing. While all the poems were beautiful, there is one that I have yet to shake. If I am not mistaken, it was the second one played. The final lines of the poem were Fasel repeating the words, “I don’t love you anyone” over and over. Each time more convincing than the last. It was definitely a defining moment for me.
With each passing song, I couldn’t help but emotional. Real Friends’ lyrics will do that to you. To experience some of the emotion, you can watch a video of my personal favorite song, “Cover You Up,” at the end as well.
Do yourself a favor, and make sure you check out any of the dates on the rest of this tour. You can see tour dates and buy concert tickets here.
You can purchase a CD from any of the bands’ websites.
Also, be sure to check out an interview with Kyle Fasel here.
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