Illinois’ Real Friends are a band with such a loyal and dedicated fan base, and that’s never been more apparent over the length of this rescheduled tour. Despite no new material or full UK run since sophomore LP ‘The Home Inside My Head’ dropped last May, the whole tour is near enough sold out and there’s a sheer sense of excitement in the air. Plus, tonight’s show is on a boat, so, that’s always fun.
First up on stage is Microwave , whose name has been generating a lot of interest over the past year or so. The set starts strong with ‘Trash Stains’, a song very reminiscent of early Basement, however, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were Underoath when the gut wrenching screams kick in. The band are unassuming, very humble, and actually quite funny (possibly a few too many boat puns though). The crowd are responsive, the music sounds good, and, most importantly, it feels like a complete and accomplished set. A very good opening act that were sure to win over a slurry of new fans.
It’s obvious from song one that Can’t Swim  have a fan following here tonight, because for the first time tonight the crowd are singing loud and proud. They’re definitely the heaviest band of the night, but they also feel like the most vulnerable. There’s so much movement onstage that it just feels slightly forced. Considering they’re only one EP and one album into their career, it’s no surprise that they’re still finding their feet as a live band. Vulnerability is inevitable when being the main support for a band like Real Friends, but with a bit more experience behind them, there’s no doubt that Can’t Swim are going to go on to big things.
Even though both supporting bands have had a great reaction, there’s absolutely no doubt who everyone is here to see tonight. As soon as Real Friends  take to the stage, they have the crowd in the palm of their hands. From moment one, the crowd are up for it and there’s pretty much no let up. Opener ‘Empty Picture Frames’ gets the crowds voices warmed up and sets the tone for a set filled with a plethora of songs from their back catalogue. Considering they have an arsenal of such heavy hitting lyrical content and emotional musical output, the band are actually really funny. There’s a lot of light-hearted humour and banter back on forth between the band.
Usually when a band has as much material as Real Friends, the older songs have the biggest reaction at live shows, so it’s unorthodox that tonight there seems to be a bigger reaction to their fresher material. In reality, this is a testament to how the band manage to find a way to connect with their fans more and more with every release that they put out. ‘Colder Quicker’ and ‘Stay In One Place’ receive huge audience participation, and are definitely some of the set’s strongest highlights.
The hype around tonight’s show has been immense, but there’s also been a slight sense of relief in the audience tonight. These shows were cancelled from the tail end of last year because frontman Dan Lambton had some issues which he bravely needed to get help for. Everyone here is happy to have them back and to see that he’s okay, so when the inevitable encore happens, Lambton comes back out and has a speech ready for the crowd in regards to mental health, and the reaction is spectacular. His heartfelt speech leads into ‘I’ve Given Up On You’, and this is by far the stand out moment of the night. You can barely hear the band; everyone in the room is singing at the top of their lungs like they’ve got something to get off their chest.
Tonight is an absolute triumph of the highest standard. Real Friends made playing the Thekla feel like playing in someone’s living room, it was that intimate.
Written by Jacob Eynon (@itsjustjake93)