Neck Deep, As It Is, Real Friends and Woes @ Manchester Apollo

As another successful year draws to a close for Neck Deep, the boys from Wrexham didn’t kick up the roots, but rather embraced them. From frontman Ben Barlow hitting the stage in a United shirt to the band remembering their first ever gig at Sound Control, there was something special about this home-away-from-hometown crowd. Despite the smoke, fire and confetti cannons, the pop-punk trailblazers delivered a raw and humble performance befitting of a band at the top of their game.

Woes kicked things off with an energetic set, showcasing a passion and drive that overshadowed any technical shortcomings. Though it’s clear that the band are new to this level of live performance, they didn’t let that stop them from giving it their all and getting the crowd to sing along to some of their better-known tunes. It’s a bit of a downer that Woes felt the sting of a stacked card as their stage presence deserved a stronger crowd to play to, but many were still stuck in line outside or trapped in the merchandise queues.

Next up was Real Friends, their six-year experience on show for all to see. The band were in their element blasting out their own brand of anthemic, emotional cuts to the growing crowd, particularly the hardcore fans who rushed the barriers and crowd surfed throughout the set. The stripped-down style of their set was a reflection of their music – unrefined, open and honest.

Brighton based rockers As It Is rounded off the supporting acts, delivering a thunderous performance that served pop-punk attitude with emo vibes. Patty Walters riled up the crowd with flying kicks, jumps and bags of energy, owning the stage with true frontman presence. A brilliant use of lights and atmosphere made the band feel more like headliners than a support and I’d love to see them again.

By the time Neck Deep made their entrance, the Apollo was packed with die-hard fans screaming in anticipation. The band wasted no time kicking off their setlist with Happy Judgment Day, a thunderous banger from their latest album The Peace and the Panic. With timely lyrics like ‘building walls and dropping bombs’, the track showcases just how smart the band can be when it comes to writing an anthem. Flames burst forth from the impressive stage setup, bringing new power to the line ‘when it all went up in flames’. The pace didn’t let up from there as the band tore through tracks from Life’s Not Out To Get You, Rain In July and A History Of Bad Decisions as well as throwing in new album opener Motion Sickness.

It’s clear that the band love performing their latest work – with a whopping nine out of eleven tracks included in the setlist – the enthusiasm behind playing these tracks live and loud is infectious. Fans of their last album, regarded by many as a game changer for the pop-punk genre, were looked after too. Despite lacking a personal favourite in Serpents, the selection of tracks and their placement throughout the show was seriously impressive.

The energy of the band on-stage was matched tenfold by the raucous crowd, who sang each line of every song like their lives depended on it. From storming fan-favourites like Kali Ma and Rock Bottom to the heartbreaking new track Wish You Were Here, which hit hard for anyone who has ever lost someone dear to them. With Ben and bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans losing friends and fathers over the last two years, it was incredible to be part of that emotional experience with the crowd. As the lighters and phone torches were raised and the Apollo became a sea of fireflies, everything clicked into place and for that one beautiful moment, everyone was connected.

As the show drew to a close, that connection remained intact. Ben laughed over the idea of an encore, telling the crowd they had ‘one more song’ with ludicrous air-quote fingers. Guitarist Matt West took a rare moment to address the crowd, reminiscing over the gigs he attended at the Apollo in the past. It’s quite the journey to go from seeing My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy from the balcony to taking the stage for yourself, but it’s a journey that is as inspiring as it is humble. Neck Deep’s greatest strength and quality is that they’re just a group of lads who love to make and perform music, living their dreams out through the good and the bad. Though tragedy and sorrow have shook the group in recent years, they remain standing to fight another day – and fight they will.

Ending the song on Where Do We Go When We Go, the words “I just wanna get one up on life before it kills me” seem to shake the building to its foundations, sung with pride by every voice in attendance. As the boys say goodbye to their last UK crowd of the tour, dancing across the stage to the sound of 2 Unlimited’s dance classic No Limit, I couldn’t help but smile at how far the kids from Wrexham had come. From playing to a tiny crowd at Sound Control to selling out the Apollo, Neck Deep’s story is far from over and I can’t wait for the next chapter. Until next time…

jordannoton

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