The Wonder Years / AW – SWX Bristol (Live Review)

SWX is a strange venue of sorts to hold a pop-punk party featuring songs that you wouldn’t associate with a place that’s hosted the likes of Professor Green and Drum N Bass clubnights. It’s lighting system is more associated with 18 year old freshers rather than crowd surfing nutcases trying to steal the mic, the bar looking more like something out of Blade Runner than a dirty DIY underground club for the unheard.

Tonight however, it works.

For all its glitz and glam, 700 or so faithful have crammed SWX in an attempt to turn that image on its head. Punk was never about where you played, it’s about the fact that you played – be it to ten people or a thousand. For the last thirteen years, The Wonder Years have lived by that code. Tonight was to be no different, with Sorority Noise no longer booked on the tour for reasons that will not be discussed in an open and welcoming area.

The stage is set, do or die gentlemen…

 

Opening the night was Los Angeles based singer-songwriter, AW. Previously known as female artist Allison Weiss, they have recently made the momentous decision to begin gender re-assignment – referring to themselves as non-binary transgender. In a society that is becoming ever more inclusive, AW is a voice for the LGBTQ community that demands they be heard, letting their fans know that no matter your circumstance, you are welcome. Whilst performing, there’s something about AW that is instantly captivating, be it their incredible strength and tone in their voice, to a style of playing that reflects back to the early days of City and Colour, to harrowing bridges and choruses with subtle nods to the likes of the world renowned Skylar Grey, and at times The Cranberries. All of this combined truly highlights their potential to exceed on a larger scale. Dan Campbell joins AW on stage for the final song of the set, with a powerful finish and teaser for what’s to come.

It takes a certain kind of artist to make a room so large feel as if you’re the only one watching. AW accomplishes that with ease. Simply mesmerising.

 

Up next, for the first time of the night are Philly’s own for an acoustic set, The Wonder Years. Marking the first time in their career to have played two sets in one night, nobody can argue their dedication to each and every single fan as to not let them down.  As Dan leads the crowd into a haunting rendition of ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ a choir of those in attendance sing back in unison, giving away the badly hidden secret that The Wonder Years are simply beloved. ‘A Song for Ernest Hemmingway’ is met by the mic on stage being near useless, the position of vocalist taken by the floor. ‘Madelyn’ and ‘The Ghosts of Right Now’ are seamlessly played through until  the fantastic ‘You in January’, topped off with AW returning to the stage to join on vocals to the applause of everyone in attendance. Ending with ‘No Closer to Heaven’, the stage was set for The Wonder Years to turn the volume up and SWX into a crowd surfers meet.

There’s certain times when shows have a slow paced start and never pick up.

This was not one of them.

One by one, all members of The Wonder Years returned to the stage after a short break, Soupy once again welcoming the SWX faithful to the nights proceedings. With all the tools out and the volume turned up, ‘Pyramids of Salt’ gives way to the crowd surging forward, arms thrown up in the air. ‘I Don’t like Who I Was Then’ taken from the bands fifth studio album No Closer to Heaven gives us a literal representation of the ‘Pop Punk, posi vibes and pizza party’ meme – a crowdsurfer proudly chowing down on a fine slice of za’ before being barrelled over the safety barrier. ‘Thanks for The Ride’, ‘It Must Get Lonely’ and ‘Cul-De-Sac’ are all met with similar reaction, bodies continually thrown to the mercy of the security guards – a huge shout out must be given to the team at SWX for keeping everyone’s safety as their main priority. ‘Coffee Eyes’ is a highlight of the set, taken from 2011 release Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, turning the room upside down – a sea of fans clawing at their chance to get close up and personal. ‘Sister Cities’ taken from the album of the same name and The Wonder Years newest release could easily be mistaken for an old song, despite the album being out for little more than a couple of weeks, Soupy taking a moment to thank everyone for their support.

The set ends with ‘Cardinals’ and another new song in the form of ‘The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me’, their souls laid bare as each member of The Wonder Years leave it all on the stage, their craft mixed with passion and love for a career that spans over a decade.

The crowd demand more, and they’re more than happy to oblige. ‘Passing through a Screen Door’ is up first, with the security so overwhelmed at the pure volume of fans throwing themselves over the barrier that it takes to Josh Martin to drop his bass and give a helping hand. ‘Cigarettes & Saints’ ends the set – building to a powerful and emotion ridden crescendo, a night’s work well and truly done.

It’s always a pleasure to welcome The Wonder Years to Bristol, and we sure as hell can’t wait for the next time.

 

Joshua White – Vulturehound Magazine 2018.