Real Friends shook the floorboards last night at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club in Toronto, as part of their fall tour with Neck Deep, Cruel Hand, and Have Mercy. Tickets were high in demand and the sold out venue was packed, attesting to the fact that, at least in Toronto, pop punk is not dead.
Baltimore, MD, band Have Mercy played a great set to start off the night with a steady stream of indie alternative rock. They slowly built up their energy, letting the laid-back instruments spread Brian Swindle‘s howling voice over the buzzing crowd like a hazy jam.
Cruel Hand were the outlier band on the bill, representing Portland, Maine, hardcore; Nevertheless, they played an upbeat set driven by sludgy guitars and non-stop head banging. The first pit of the night was opened up during the band’s set and the crowd responded positively as they played “The Negatives.”
All the way from Wrexham, Wales, Neck Deep were the star overseas import. Frontman Ben Barlow‘s stage presence was raw and full of excitement – he jumped from one end of the stage to the other. When he wasn’t singing, Barlow and the band would lovingly poke fun at Canadian culture and our politeness.
Real Friends’ guitarist Dave Knox jumped on stage at one point and hollered into the mic, nearly losing himself into the crowd. Barlow took advantage of this break to swig some water and spit into the air in a dramatic finale for the end of “All Hype No Heart.”
Stage divers went amuck for most of Neck Deep’s set, but the atmosphere changed as the band geared into everyone’s favourite acoustic song of the night. Barlow instructed the crowd to put their (cellphone) lights up and as the familiar chords of “A Part of Me” began, everyone belted out the lyrics at the top of their lungs. One brave girl jumped up on stage and took over Laura Whiteside‘s part on the second mic and left disoriented by the end of it.
It was finally time for the Illinois Sad Boys to come on and the room swelled with emotion as they began their set with “I’ve Give Up On You.” The band possesses a certain genuineness and with this, a very organic and close connection is made with their fans. Though Have Mercy, Cruel Hand, and Neck Deep all played in the same space, Real Friends created an intimate setting with heartbroken voice recordings laced between songs. This made the medium-sized venue feel like a one-on-one serenade on your basement floor.
Real Friends fostered the most sing-alongs, at times vocalist Dan Lambton would lend his microphone to a kid in the crowd or straight up pull it away from his face, allowing the audience to have their voices heard. The band wrapped up the night with a two-song encore, playing “Late Nights In My Car” and “Sixteen.”
(All photos by Ashley Emma Ng)