With the choice between seeing Real Friends, As It Is, or Andrew McMahon and all of their respective show lineups on May 9th in Portland, I’m confident I made the right choice by seeing Real Friends and co. at the Wonder Ballroom.
First, I’d like to thank Kyle Fasel of Real Friends for making sure accessibility accommodations were met this night, for me. I’ve had a lot of problems with the Wonder Ballroom lately and it was a relief to finally be able to safely view a show here.
The evening started off with a group I had yet to listen to called nothing,nowhere.. Their sound stood apart from the rest of the lineup, but the emotion that is behind their lyrics and visible in their performance made them a great match for this tour. nothing,nowhere. combine punk, emo, and hip-hop influences to create a sound that can’t be put inside a single, genre-defining box. I don’t know much about where this band came from or why I hadn’t heard of them before this tour because their social media doesn’t seem to give that away, but they put on one of the most memorable opening performances I’ve seen in awhile, and I suspect we’ll see them gaining traction after this tour.
The venue wasn’t nearly as full as it was for the other shows I’ve been to there recently, but those who were in attendance showed every artist a great time. Many fans were stoked to see the next band on the bill, the rapidly growing pop-punk group, Broadside. The first time I saw this band they played to ten or so people at the Analog Cafe, so it was impressive to see a large majority of people yelling along to songs like “Storyteller” and “Coffee Talk.” I don’t regularly listen to them, so I couldn’t sing along, but it was still enjoyable to bop along to their music. There was one thing that was quite off-putting during their set. Vocalist Ollie Baxxter tried to express his gratitude for being on this tour by saying, ‘One time we paid $200 to be on a YouTube ad, and now here we are, on tour with Real Friends.’ I understand that there are different ways for bands to achieve success, and that what he said is true, but telling a young audience that money led your band to where you are now is disappointing and can negatively impact the mindsets of fans pursuing music who aren’t as socioeconomically privileged. I’m sure this is not what Baxxter intended, but it was how it was received, at least by me.
Each of the openers on the show had 30 minute sets since there were four of them before Real Friends, but it made the show pass by quickly. Third on the bill was the energetic and wholesome math rock band, Tiny Moving Parts. They have quickly become one of my favorite bands since they released Celebrate last year, and the record landed at number two on my list of favorite albums of 2016. Their live performance, especially that of guitarist/vocalist Dylan Mattheisen, is impressively energetic. There’s hardly a moment where Mattheisen can be found standing still and somehow he manages to hit every note he taps on his guitar while jumping around. The whole band exudes the most positive energy, and Mattheisen constantly has a smile glued to his face―both on and off the stage. Drummer Billy Chevalier was decked out in a Hawaiian shirt and tropical shorts, adding to the band’s already unique character. As always they had their neon sign reading, ‘The Parts!’ behind them as they played. It’s become a staple to their stage setup and I hope it sticks around for good. They played all of my favorites such as “Headache” and “Birdhouse,” along with older tunes that I still haven’t gotten to know like, “Sundress,” “Always Focused,” and fan favorite, “Dakota.” I’m sure that this tour has been great for introducing a lot of people to their music, and I hope to see them here again soon.
It was very surreal to see Have Mercy in 2017. The first time I saw them was in 2014 with Real Friends, and the last time they played Portland was at Warped in 2015 because their van broke down on their headlining tour that fall and they had to drop off that show. Now they’re back with a completely different lineup, and as vocalist Brian Swindle mentioned during their set, there almost wasn’t going to be a band at all anymore. The core of Have Mercy is now just Swindle, and on tour he’s joined by several of his best friends. They also play as a five piece now, so it was a whole new experience from the last time I saw them, plus they have a new record, Make The Best Of It, so about half of their set was new songs. Their following has grown immensely since I discovered them as many people eagerly awaited the recent album. It’s nice to have them back, and the new music sounded great live. Their performance really brought the emotions behind their lyrics to life for many listeners. They closed their set with “Let’s Talk About Your Hair” which is easily their most popular song, and most of the crowd yelled along to it. Swindle mentioned that they’ll be back in October, so if you missed them this time around, that will be your next chance to catch them!
Another reason that I chose this show over the others happening is because this is Real Friends’ only US tour this year, and I haven’t seen the songs from The Home Inside My Head as many times as I’d like, so it was pretty easy to pick this one. The band’s stage setup was influenced by their album artwork with a cushioned rocking chair, an old-fashioned TV, and lamps that reminded me of a stereotypical image of someone’s grandmother’s living room. It added a warmth to the already familiar feeling I get when seeing Real Friends live.
Maybe my roots can get loose, but for awhile I forgot that Real Friends was the band that got me into pop-punk, and was overall one of the first touring bands I discovered in the larger music scene after making friends through Portland’s local scene. I remembered all of this as they played songs like “Floorboards” and “Dead,” and I realized I forgot half the words since I primarily listen to their latest album, now. Real Friends is naturally growing alongside their music, and as a fan, so am I. Throughout their set as they played songs throughout their discography, I kept having nostalgic flashbacks to the other times I’ve seen them live. The strongest memory in particular came during “I’ve Given Up On You.”
At shows, I usually have my earplugs in for the entirety of a band’s set, but when guitarist Dave Knox picked up an acoustic guitar, and started playing the beginning of “I’ve Given Up On You,” I decided to take out my earplugs and be fully immersed in the room of voices that vocalist Dan Lambton guided through the song. It was one of those moments at a show that could give anyone chills as everyone’s voices sang loudly and became one, yet we all connected with the song in different ways. It mentally brought me back to seeing Real Friends play this same song at this same venue during a time when I related to it more than ever.
Real Friends played a bunch of songs from Maybe This Place Is The Same And We’re Just Changing, and it was a nice way for me to discover that I connect with those tracks now that I’m older, as opposed to three years ago when they released that record. Sometimes the music we need to hear can be found on albums we’ve heard several times over. A lot of Real Friends’ music is about change, growing up, moving on, and the effects of mental illnesses, so it was no surprise when Lambton took time to express how necessary it is to reach out if you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, or anything that makes you feel less like yourself. Real Friends have always done a great job speaking up on the issues they care about, and in using their platform to spread positive messages. Late last year, the band canceled their UK/Europe tour and Lambton explained in a Facebook post that he needed to seek mental health help, so that way he could be in the right headspace to play those shows. They rescheduled and played the Europe tour last month, then had a little break before beginning this tour. The band seemed more refreshed and more passionate than ever for the duration of their time on stage.
Although the cliches of Real Friends’ older songs are attached to distant memories now, their music has never spoken to me as much as it does today. Their set gave me time to reflect on how much my life has changed, and how much everyone has grown since I first listened to them just before Warped in 2014. I went from knowing only a few people at their shows, to knowing at least 15-20 people who were at this one in particular. There’s nothing more powerful than the way that we connect with music, and the way it can transport our minds to where they were when we heard a song for the very first time—even if it feels like a lifetime ago. This show left me feeling more excited about music than I’ve felt after a concert in a long time. It reassured me that I am where I need to be. ‘It’s just so weird to think that we’re always changing.’