LIVE: State Champs / Seaway / Stand Atlantic / Woes @ O2 Academy, Leeds

By Gem Rogers

It may not always seem like it, going by the inevitable social media complaints after every tour announcement, but we have it pretty lucky in the UK. Despite being a relatively small island, we’re regularly treated to tours by just about every band going– and compared to the epic road trips required for many in the States, we don’t do too badly at all. Our friends across the pond do seem to grab one advantage though: those stacked tour line-ups, as three or four established and well-loved bands head out on the road together, essentially combining several gigs into one mind-blowing (and exhausting) evening.

Fortunately, State Champs are here to give the people what they want. Just in case a Champs show alone wasn’t exciting enough, tonight they’re being joined in Leeds Academy by some of the best pop punkers on the circuit for a night of dancing to rival the best cardio workout.

Kicking off an event like this was always going to be tough, but Edinburgh’s Woes do their best to step up to the challenge. Unfortunately, they’re plagued by sound that’s far from ideal– at times the guitar is so inaudible it may as well not be there at all, and the whole thing becomes a bit of a muddy noise fest. It’s an earnest but scrappy performance, and though all four are putting every last bit of their energy into getting things going, it’s ultimately a little forgettable when set against the three bands that follow.

Forgettable isn’t a term that could be applied to Australia’s Stand Atlantic. Their entrance is understated, but what follows is half an hour of bright, punchy pop rock led by Bonnie Fraser’s crystal clear vocals and some enchantingly honest, relatable lyrics. This is where things really start to heat up, with mosh pits and some (possibly ill-advised, but much appreciated) early attempts at crowdsurfing, whilst their infuriatingly catchy latest single ‘Skinny Dipping’ is made for singing along to. Melodic but with a kick in the form of Jonno Panichi‘s hammering drum beats, this is exactly the kind of performance that’s worthy of the main stage at festivals like Slam Dunk– so don’t be too surprised if that’s exactly where they end up. And soon.

Third act of the night Seaway, bearers of the most immaculate facial hair in pop punk, seem pretty determined to make sure we know where they’re from– in case the occasional ‘eh’ wasn’t a dead giveaway, there’s also a few bold Toronto Maple Leafs shirts on display to cement their Canadian identity. The band have three albums to their name, but the focus of tonight’s set is 2017’s ‘Vacation’; by far their most polished release, but still with heaps of the heart that made them appealing in the first place, this is a set that is Fun with a capital F from start to finish and the crowd respond accordingly. From to the endearing lyrics and dancing riffs of ‘Something Wonderful’ to the sharp and pounding old school sound of ‘Slam’ – all with fantastic use of dual vocals from Ryan Locke and guitarist Patrick Carleton– Seaway make the most of their half hour and show exactly why they’re one of the best rising bands in the scene.

If the assembled pop punk fans are beginning to tire by this point (and nobody could blame them), it doesn’t show– which is lucky, really. If there’s one thing State Champs will never do, it’s take their foot off the gas pedal, and boy do they know how to make an entrance; dramatic lighting and fireworks – yep, fireworks – all come out to play as they explode into ‘Criminal’. Within seconds, the crowd is loud enough that vocal duties can be handed over, though happily not too often– Derek DiScanio’s voice is not something we want to miss out on.

Tonight is all about ‘Living Proof’, and though Slam Dunk attendees will have already been treated to the singles earlier this year, this is the first chance to hear more of the Champs’ newest record. Considering the album contains some of their strongest output to date, it’s not too surprising that these songs are also superb live. ‘Our Time To Go’ is a deeply evocative moment, a choir of uplifting voices from the crowd accompanying DiScanio’s flawless vocals through one of their most lyrically powerful choruses, whilst the glorious bassline of ‘Something About You’ and stomping ‘Dead And Gone’ make for intensely enjoyable set highlights. There’s something magical about a room full of people screaming “I wanna breathe with ease again, I wanna get some fucking sleep again”… As the internet would say (probably): Big Mood.

With a twenty song set list, there’s still plenty of time to dip into other favourites too; ‘The Finer Things’ tracks ‘Simple Existence’, ‘Remedy’ and ‘Elevated’ tear through the room with punching, reckless abandon, whilst ‘All You Are Is History’ has heads banging and crowdsurfers flying. It’s less of a crowd tonight and more a heaving, bellowing mass of joy; every word of every song echoes around the room and there’s a universal losing of minds as each track kicks in. State Champs thrive on the energy, whilst the execution of each song is faultless throughout; it seems so rare to find a band able to not only produce music of this kind and calibre, but also perform it with such outstanding quality and energy.

Closing with ‘Secrets’, it’s been a long, exhilarating set and most seem ready for a bit of a lie down – yet still there’s a sense that if the band were to play on for another two hours, every single person would be right there and loving it. State Champs have carved themselves a place at the very peak of their genre, and tonight has been a display of pop punk at its absolute finest – energetic, passionate, and bucketloads of fun. May there be plenty more nights like this to come.

GEM ROGERS