Live Review: Real Friends, Can’t Swim and Microwave – St. Luke’s, Glasgow – 10/4/2017

When Real Friends announced on Remembrance Day 2016 that their UK dates scheduled for December were being postponed, there seemed more than a sliver of doubt if they would happen at all. Dan Lambton’s admission that he ‘may have a problem that (was) out of (his) control at this point in time’, in reference to his struggles with anxiety, indicated that while his band should have been going from strength to strength in the wake of their successful second album, he was in a bad place.

The tour had looked set to be one of the events of the year, support from Knuckle Puck and With Confidence guaranteeing sold out shows and further success for ‘The Home Inside My Head’. The combination of Lambton’s mental health troubles and the loss of such esteemed supports could have easily put the tour to bed altogether, but the rescheduled dates were announced not even a fortnight later. The determination of Real Friends and Lambton to make the shows happen can only be applauded.

If it wasn’t for lead singer and guitarist Nathan Hardy saying so, you would never know it was Microwave’s first tour outside of the US. The Atlanta group bear likeness to Real Friends in songs that are often as soft and heartfelt, as they are hard-hitting. And while three-quarters of the band’s hair match that of Lambton’s, they exude more maturity than the headliners in driving punk performed in a laid-back, assured manner. The stage chat of Hardy and guitarist Wesley Swanson is similarly relaxed and at ease with the fact that very few, if any, Glaswegians are familiar with their songs. It would come as little surprise if next time Microwave see these shores, those songs will be sung back at them with gusto. (3.5/5)

Having produced one of the records of the year so far in ‘Fail You Again’, Can’t Swim may be three years Microwave’s junior, but their exponential rise made them the obvious choice for main support here. Bolstered by a triple guitar attack, the blunt energy of ‘Fail You Again’ is emphatically recreated, as is the beginning of the record in the rip-roaring opener ‘What’s Your Big Idea?’. The New Jersey outfit win deserved new fans with ease through a strong, tight live sound anchored by an outstanding performance from drummer Andrea Morgan. At one point her intensity leads to a broken crash cymbal, but she laughs it off and hits it even harder next time. Raw and fresh, the album is one of those that already has a live feel to it – as might be imagined, the tracks simply excel when performed. Can’t Swim continue to impress. (4/5)

There is something hesitant about the opening to Real Friends’ set, with ‘Empty Picture Frames’ and ‘Colder Quicker’ receiving a somewhat mute reaction. Lambton appears a little wooden, and thoughts quickly turn to his recent battles. Were the dates too hastily rescheduled? Did the singer have sufficient time to recover? It is soon apparent that only the natural settling in is required, and ‘Loose Ends’ sees him urge the crowd to life in a circle-pit.

Tracks from 2013 EP ‘Put Yourself Back Together’ are afforded the most lively reactions, but there is an undeniable thinness to the relatively subdued audience. It is likely that there were those who had bought tickets to the original shows in as much anticipation of the supports as Real Friends and chose to be refunded. Lambton addresses the reasons for the postponement, urging sufferers of mental illness to seek help immediately. His voice wavers, and he receives resounding applause.

Guitarist Dave Knox welcomes everyone ‘to church’, indicating the stunning backdrop of organ pipes and stain glass that tower over the stage. The converted kirk then resounds with a choir of voices joining in the powerful ‘I’ve Given Up On You’, before ‘Summer’ closes the set triumphantly.

Both Real Friends’ lyrical themes and the hopeful messages they post on social media are concerned with overcoming personal hardships, self-doubt and life’s trials. To see Dan Lambton supported by his band and crew, enabling him to beat his own hardships and travel here to perform, is admirable in spades. It would not appear that he or the band are at 100% quite yet, but the effort made for their UK fans is commendable. A show of strength as much as anything else. (3/5)


Words by Peter Stewart (@PeteStew_)

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