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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Funeral For a Friend - O2 Forum, London, 21/05/16



This is one of the most heartbreaking reviews that I've ever had to write. It was sad when I saw Kids in Glass Houses for the last time. It bruised my soul seeing The Blackout's last ever festival appearance. But to attend the last show - not one of the last, but the last - of a band as legendary and influential as Funeral For a Friend?
I wasn't surprised when they announced their break-up. A band that have been together for fifteen years and had their most successful album sales a decade ago are bound to be at risk. Expecting it and accepting it are two extremely different things though: I still can't really believe the news, even though sitting here writing this review unquestioningly proves the band are done (for now at least, we can always hope for a reunion...).
It was an emotional evening when I saw their last Welsh show a matter of weeks ago, but I knew this one was going to be much harder to get through.

It helped that Zoax were the opening act for the evening. I've praised them multiple times before for their invigorating, enthralling performance; as soon as Zoax come on stage it's as though a spell has been cast, because it's impossible to pull your eyes away. Adam Carroll is magnetic as he paces up and down the stage, shifting from a guttural roar to a harmonic vocal, and I adore the variety that the songs from their brand new self-titled record (released last week) introduce into the set.
It's the first time that I've heard any of their new material live, and you can hear the development that Zoax have been through over the last year. Instead of the frenetic, barely contained energy ripping the stage apart, the guitar work is more nuanced, while the drumming drives the songs forward at such a fast pace that it felt like their set was over before it had even begun. The shift between indecipherable growling and beautifully clear vocal is always a popular style (think Of Mice and Men) but being able to use one vocalist to do both, rather than having two, makes them stand head and shoulders above everyone else.
I haven't seen Zoax in a room of this size before. The first time I saw them they were at the O2 Academy in Oxford, which is markedly smaller than the one in Kentish Town (almost exactly half the capacity) while the second time they were opening a stage at Takedown Festival, meaning that their crowd was much smaller. At both of these shows Adam worked his way out into the crowd and performed in the audience; considering the size difference I definitely hadn't been expecting him to try that at this show.
But then 'Bitter.Angry.Fake' began. The only non-album track to make it into the set, coming from their 2014 EP 'XIII', it's filled with a vicious energy. When Adam stepped off of the stage and started walking around the crowd you could feel the anticipation in the air - where was he going? What was he doing? - and when he started up the staircase towards the balcony I was ecstatic; I had seating tickets, and it meant I still felt involved in Zoax's set despite being distant from the crowd. Walking along the front row of seats, Adam chose a spot to stop and sing, leaning down to the person next to him and asking "on a scale of 1 to 10 how fucking awkward are you?". It's a ballsy move for an opening act to be so interactive with the crowd as the likelihood is that they haven't purchased tickets just to see you, but Adam owned the room.
He didn't bother to return to the stage for 'The Bad Blood', heading straight out into the middle of the crowd and clearing a gap for himself. Again, he joked around with the crowd, pointing to one of the guys stood at the front of his circle and quipping "he looks so fucking scared!". Pacing in the circle, throwing himself into the performance, Adam is a man possessed by his music, and you can see how much he feels every note played up on the stage.
Closer 'The Wave' is a devastatingly gorgeous song. Stripped back, toned down, there's no screaming but there is an extremely powerful vocal performance that proves once and for all that Adam can sing; as though there could be any doubt left following the rest of the set. Dedicating the track to Funeral For a Friend, Adam thanked the band for all that they'd done for Zoax, stating that the invite to support them on their final tour "was a childhood dream", because he could remember buying 'Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation' and being blown away by it. You could see how much effort he was putting in to the performance, and it was very tender and emotional; the perfect closer for the first set of the night. 
Zoax are playing Download festival next month, so if you're attending the festival theirs is one set you can't afford to miss.

Setlist:
Ksychia (*)
Lonely Souls
Roses All The Way
Bitter.Angry.Fake
The Bad Blood
Devil Dance
The Wave

(*) song title found on setlist.fm 

Fresh from supporting Andy Black on his first UK solo tour, Creeper were a late addition to the bill after the announcement of the rescheduled dates. As it came close to their stage time the room fell to darkness, the piano music piping through the speakers inducing a creepy atmosphere and tossing a blanket of silence over the expectant crowd, the only light illuminating the giant heart logo emblazoned on their backdrop. This kind of entrance is normally reserved for the headline act, and with vocalist Will Gould's swaggering confidence and songs as catchy as the singalong-centric 'Valentine' and recent single 'Black Mass', Creeper are definitely headline material.
Despite the fact that they were taking the room by storm, stirring the rapidly growing crowd into a frenzy, Will pronounced "tonight is not about our band, tonight is about a very special band who we've had the privilege of opening for multiple times".
It turns out that Creeper exist thanks to Matthew Davies-Kreye, Funeral For a Friend's vocalist. Before 'Astral Projection', which they dedicated to the band, Will shared a story about his and Ian Miles' (one of Creeper's two guitarists) old band - Our Time Down Here. The band broke up a few years ago, but before the split Matt went to see them play in Swansea "a small DIY show [with] no one there". Despite the fact that the band were breaking up, Matt listened to their record 'Midnight Mass' "and he paid his own money to get that pressed to vinyl". Yes, that's right, they'd already announced their split and Matt thought their album was so good that it deserved an investment. It's always been a well-known fact that Funeral For a Friend have supported the upcoming music scene, nurturing new bands as though they were helpless baby birds; it's a testament to them that the members of a band they helped have started a new project and have played with them multiple times (Creeper's first ever tour was opening for Funeral For a Friend). Will couldn't thank Matt enough, stating "there are only so many times we can start again when struggling, and we started again because of Matt. If one of our idols cared about what we were doing, it couldn't be that crap. [...] We, as a band, as well as other people, owe a lot to Funeral For a Friend".
You could see that Will was getting emotional towards the end of their set, particularly before they played 'Henley's Ghost'. He explained that they normally close their sets with this song, but "this evening feels a lot more significant, because once this is done Funeral come on stage for the last time ever, so I kind of don't want to finish talking...". The crowd all cheered along to this; I don't think anyone would have been angry at all if Creeper had refused to leave the stage, not allowing that final set to ever begin. It was a consolation that their final song was so beautiful; similarly to Zoax, they finished on a comparatively chilled out song rather than choosing one with a fast beat, and it definitely pushed Will's vocal to the limits. I hadn't realised quite how powerful his voice was, but I was struck by the similarity to the late and great Freddie Mercury with his flamboyantly extravagant way of tackling every song he performed.
I'd forgotten how brilliant Creeper were live, but I'm not going to allow the knowledge to slip my mind again. I wasn't that interested in seeing them at Slam Dunk because of the close proximity to this show (I'm attending Slam Dunk next Monday) but - set clashes permitting - I'm going to have to fight my way into the Fresh Blood room to see them own that crowd too.

Setlist:
VCR
Black Mass
The Honeymoon Suite
Valentine
Gloom
Astral Projection
Lie Awake
Henley's Ghost

After two such brilliant - nay, flawless - support sets, Funeral For a Friend needed to pull out all the stops to steal the show. Being their last show, they had to put on the headline show of their lives; it would have been a bit embarrassing if they'd been overshadowed by one of their support acts! But when they walked out on stage the two bands that came earlier were completely forgotten. Before any of the members had played a note on their instrument, the applause and cheering from the crowd was deafening. Matt thanked everyone, saying that "we never in a million years thought we'd be in the situation" and that the band were "incredibly humbled [...] incredibly grateful" for the welcome that the crowd was giving them. As this was an album in full show, he introduced it by saying "for the very, very last time, we're Funeral For a Friend, and this is 'Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation'"; the band then dived straight into the playback of their extremely successful debut album.
When 'Casually Dressed...' was released thirteen years ago, it debuted at number 12 on the UK album charts. It hit gold certification within a year, which is an extremely impressive feat for any band; it shows just how much of an impact their two EPs ('Between Order and Model' and 'Four Ways to Scream Your Name') made on the scene. Its popularity has not diminished with the passing years, that much was apparent the moment the opening chords of 'Rookie of the Year' blasted out into the venue, causing the crowd to surge forward in a sea of movement that tossed and turned relentlessly for the almost two hours of their set.
If you've seen Funeral For a Friend before, and you thought that songs like 'Escape Artists Never Die' and 'Red is the New Black' were impressive, you want to hear them with over 2,000 people screaming along to every word. Whereas some of the recent tours that Funeral For a Friend have put on have been smaller, lower capacity rooms and with less shows selling out than they once managed, this tour united Funeral For a Friend fans past and present, old and new, and gathered a selection of rabid, enthusiastic fans that really wanted to show their love and appreciation for the band one last time.
As well as the fans going crazy, from my vantage point up on the balcony I could see the amount of people gathering around to watch the band from side of stage. The crowd included Adam from Zoax, who was enthusiastically air drumming to himself through the entirety of 'Bullet Theory'. When he then burst back on to the stage to perform the unclean vocal on 'Juneau' you could see how pleased he looked - as he mentioned during Zoax's set, he's been a fan of the band for years, so being able to say that he was on stage with them during their last ever show must be a surreal fact. The interaction between the two vocalists worked wonderfully: 'Juneau' has never sounded that good. They also had a co-vocalist on 'Escape Artists Never Die', their guitar tech Nash, and if he doesn't have another job lined up after this tour he should definitely consider starting a band, because his vocal was stellar as well.
I couldn't remember 'Moments Forever Faded', but when Matt introduced the song he was passionate in his speech regarding abusive relationships: "this issue still worries me all the time, how anybody in a loving relationship, or any situation, could willingly raise a hand to that personal and abuse them physically or mentally. Are we not civilized enough to realise that is not acceptable?". Sharing the fact that he was bullied in school, he urged "it's not wrong to seek help, it's not weak to look for a way out of that situation" - I'd forgotten how vocal Funeral For a Friend were about the issues in society that disturbed and upset them, and it was very appreciated by the crowd. The song did not ring any bells to me at all, but I'm going to make a concerted effort to listen to it more in the future, because it's very powerful lyrically.
As I mentioned earlier, the response to 'Red is the New Black' was utterly insane, and Matt took a moment before the song to thank the crowd once more. He claimed that it was "the most enjoyable yet saddest set [he'd] ever played in [his] life" before encouraging the crowd to sing the first verse without him joining in, just the audience and Kris's guitar. Stating "we've done this every single time on this tour and we've been keeping a tally of which audience is best [...] If I have to join in, it means you're fucking terrible!" that definitely wound the crowd up. I've been to a lot of shows where the audience have been encouraged to sing along unaccompanied and it often degrades into madness and mumbling: I've never heard a group of people louder or more in sync than at this show. If the rest of the crowds on the tour have been this enthusiastic, I can't imagine it's made the decision to break up any easier on the guys.
I'd also forgotten how beautiful 'Your Revolution is a Joke' was. With three of the members stepping off stage, it let Kris and Matt alone to perform the acoustic track: compared to the hectic guitar work and constant movement of the rest of the album, these few minutes were poignant, memorable and emotionally fraught. Matt's voice had never sounded better, clearly ringing out above the crowd, and I had goosebumps from the first moment until the last chord rang out.

Of course the album in full was going to go down well: the majority of the people who purchased tickets would have been familiar with the majority of the first section of the set, if not the entire thing. It had been a very long time since I'd heard the album myself (I hadn't been able to bring myself to listen to it before going to the show, because it was just too emotional) but memories of most of the songs came flooding back to me.
I still think of myself as a fairly new Funeral For a Friend fan (I have been a fan of them for seven years, but that's less than half of the time that they were together, so compared to the hardcore old school followers in the room I was a newbie) but they've been with me through good times and bad times over the last few years, and I'm really appreciative to them for being a staple part of my personal soundtrack.

The second half of the set was a selection of the other material they've released throughout their career, focusing on the early years. Bringing back original members Darran Smith and Ryan Richards for 'This Year's Most Open Heartbreak' was the most exciting moment of the evening: I'm not afraid to admit that I may have shed a little tear, seeing those two returning to give the band the farewell that they deserve. After the appearance of Adam during 'Juneau' I hadn't been expecting any more surprises, but that reunion was the icing on the cake that was this show. 
The saddest thing about this show - other than it being the last time Funeral For a Friend would play as a band - is that this was the best I've ever seen them play live. This was my fourth time seeing them, which I'm very grateful for (just twelve months ago I'd only seen them once, at their Reading festival 2013 appearance) but it was undoubtedly better than the previous three shows I'd experienced.
I don't know if it was the excitement from the crowd that invigorated the band, but I've never seen Matt jumping around as much as he did last night. Every other song he was bouncing along to the introduction, getting higher than I thought would be possible from standing, filled to the brim with an energy that has been lacking in the recent past. Maybe it was just the fact that it was the last show - throwing everything into it because it was the last chance to dance - but it was impressive; you wouldn't have been able to tell that he was 36 if he hadn't shared that fact later in the evening. It was ironic: Matt was moving around more than he normally would, and that would normally point towards a rougher vocal due to the breathlessness of the exercise, but - as I mentioned earlier - it's the best I've ever heard him sing, too. 'Casually Dressed...' sounded exactly as it did on the recording, and even jumping back to the earlier songs they sounded note for note perfect. There wasn't a dud moment at any point of the show, and the setlist in particular was crafted to perfection, despite the fact that Matt joked around "even at the end, the facade of professionalism, we still can't keep it up! Nobody's ever called us professional. Keeping the dream alive right until the last fucking show". Part of Funeral For a Friend's charm will always be that they were so down to earth; fame never went to their heads.
Later in the evening, Matt shared the origin story of Funeral For a Friend, something I'd never known before:
"Once upon a time there existed a band called January Thirst. They recorded one song for a Blackfish Records compilation - pretty fucking brutal - and a really close friend of mine screamed in that band, and he played it for me. And he was really fucking excited, and I was like 'Yeah, man!'. It was pretty fucking brutal. I wasn't a huge fan, to be honest..."
(At this point Kris interjected, quipping "16 years and you're telling me now, bro...")
"Then their singer left, and [Kris] says 'Do you wanna come along and try out for the band?'. What the fuck am I supposed to do in a band that sounds like that? But what the fuck, I'll do it."
So Matt went along to January Thirst's practice space - St Barnabus church, kindly provided by Kris's mother - and he tried out for the band. They all agreed that, with Matt's voice sounding like it did, they couldn't play "real heavy shit" anymore, so they started writing together... "We started playing some ideas, Kris has some lyrics and they were really fucking good lyrics", and within the next hour they'd created '10:45 Amsterdam Conversations'.  "It was a meant to be a demo, it wasn't meant to be for public consumption" but that became 'Between Order and Model', the EP that launched the band's career, in part because of how rough around the edges and independent it sounded. January Thirst were no more. Funeral For a Friend were born.
And following the story of their birth is the story of their demise. '10:45...' was followed by 'The Art of American Football' - which Matt dedicated to Funeral For a Friend, then called for a circle pit because it would be "the last circle pit that we'll ever fucking see!" - ...and then it was time for the last two songs that the band would ever perform. They'd picked the songs specifically, with Matt stating "these next two songs, if I were to explain to anybody what this band is about I would play them these two songs".
I'd looked up the setlist that they'd been doing at every other 'Casually Dressed...' in full show, and it had been 'History' and then 'Roses for the Dead', but I was elated when they switched the two songs to perform them for the final time. 'Roses for the Dead' has always been an emotional one - a tribute to all the people that Matt has loved and lost throughout his life - but it didn't seem like an appropriate song to be the last song.
Of course, the closer had to be 'History'.
But before performing it Matt took the time to thank every single person that was with them. Thanking Zoax, he called him "friends and brothers", praising them for "making music for the right fucking reasons, because it moves them". He joked about Adam interrogating him about Funeral For a Friend ("any story that he could possibly get out of us, any story to do with our band") and said that whenever he heard the word "legacy" he didn't think it would relate to them, because he "never thought we would be a band who would influence anything or anyone" and that was why they made the effect to "give something back to the scene that has nurtured us" because it's still relevant today. He also announced that Creeper "genuinely 100% deserve everything they've got coming their way", and he's right - there are big things on the horizon for those guys.
Personally thanking all of their crew, Matt announced "for us this is a family, regardless of everything, regardless of sales, it's about family, it's about finding a place" and if more upcoming bands could develop this mindset I feel as though we'd be getting a lot more success stories. You could hear that he was getting emotional when he was speaking, so it wasn't a surprise when he complained "fucking hell, I'm getting all fucking teary! Emo as fuck, yeah, we know!".
Joking that it wasn't fair because he's "the only guy that actively uses a microphone in this band", he also took the time to individually thank all of the other band members too: Casey, their drummer, "for killing it with us [...] truly and inspiring individual, incredibly talented and we've been lucky to have him"; Rich and Gav, who "stepped in and kicked this band's ass"; Kris, and "every single member past and present - thank you so much for fucking everything, for being the best bunch of guys to sound off ideas with, tell you that your riff is shit..." (causing chuckles from all the members, so it makes you wonder how often that was said!). Finally thanking "every single person who has ever given a single fuck about our band, we love you very, very, very much" the room erupted in a roar of cheers, the chant of "Funeral! Funeral! Funeral!" echoing around the room. Feet stamping, hands clapping, every member of the crowd were showing appreciation for a band who didn't just catapult their genre into the limelight, but a band who have fought against adversity, persevered through line-up changes and independently releasing multiple albums, and who have done it all with a grateful, thankful attitude.
Introducing 'History', Matt shared that it was about "standing up for what you believe in, never letting go of your dreams, your aspirations" and enthusing "fight for it!". As soon as the song started you couldn't hear Matt's vocal, but this wasn't a technical hitch: the crowd was singing along so loudly that they were almost over-powering the speakers. The song passed in a flash, feeling like just seconds had passed before it was over, and then that was it; the end of Funeral For a Friend.
The band stood on stage thanking the crowd, Matt falling to pieces and the other members rushing to console him (including Darran and Ryan, who had been watching side stage but sped over to comfort their friend). The chant started up again, this time more raucous than before (if that was even possible!) but then some members of the crowd started singing the end of 'History' again, and before long the entire room was joining in on the impromptu singalong:
"Archers in your arches, raise your fingers for one last salute, and I bleed this skyline dry, your history is mine."
Every member looked so touched, with Matt drying his eyes and singing along with everyone, before raising his hands in a heart shape and thanking the crowd.
It was utterly heartbreaking, but it was also one of the most memorable moments of my life; I don't think I'm going to be able to listen to 'History' for a while without getting overcome with emotion.

Setlist:
Rookie of the Year
Bullet Theory
Juneau (ft. Adam Carroll)
Bend Your Arms to Look Like Wings
Escape Artists Never Die
Storytelling
Moments Forever Faded
She Drove Me To Daytime Television
Red is the New Black
Your Revolution is a Joke
Waking Up
Novella
-
This Year's Most Open Heartbreak (ft. Darran Smith and Ryan Richards)
Kiss and Make Up (All Bets Are Off)
10 Scene Points to the Winner
You Want Romance?
10:45 Amsterdam Conversations
The Art of American Football
Roses For The Dead
History

It sucks that Funeral For a Friend have split, I'm not going to lie to you. But I'm ecstatic that they managed to go out on such a high note, with everyone supporting them; the crowd at the show was utterly brilliant, and the response could not have been better. Whatever they choose to do next, I hope the guys stay in the music industry and keep making the scene a better place - their impact and influence will not be easily forgotten.

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