Sleeping With Sirens – Union Chapel, London, 25/08/16

Image result for sleeping with sirens acoustic
State Champs blew me away.
I’d expected them to be good – they released an EP titled ‘The Acoustic Things’ back in 2014, and guitarist Ryan Scott Graham is also the sole member of Speak Low If You Speak Love, so it’s not like they’re unfamiliar with the acoustic thing – but I hadn’t anticipated them being capable of almost stealing the show.
After I saw State Champs headline The Hippodrome I decided to listen to them more, but almost a year has passed and I still haven’t done that. Experiencing their half an hour set tonight, I have no idea why, but I know for a fact that I’ll be doing everything I can to get to their set opening the main stage at Reading on Sunday.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Derek DiScanio’s vocal tone is one of the most aurally-pleasing I’ve ever encountered. Put that voice in a live environment, combine it with beautiful guitar work and multiple appearances of the fabled percussive egg… That’s a beautiful mixture. It was appropriate that the show was being held in a church, because it was as though we were genuinely hearing the voice of an angel.
I’m joking: about the angel thing, not about Derek being a wonderful singer. If there was any doubt in my mind, it was completely erased during ‘If I’m Lucky’, which Derek performed completely solo. Tyler Szalkowski rejoined him to play ‘Stick Around’ for the first time since 2014, and based on the cheers that erupted from the audience when Derek announced the name of the song it’s definitely a fan favourite despite its age (and the fact that it originated on one of their EPs, rather than their debut album).
Going by the audience, it would have been easy to assume this was a State Champs headline show. Derek encouraged the crowd to sing along if they knew the words and from the first note of ‘Elevated’ the people singing their heart out to every word almost overpowered him. It was certainly the most pop-punk choir I’ve ever heard! He joked that he “thought it was going to be a quiet stare at us show, but you guys are doing just fine”, enthusing “you sound brilliant” as the singing grew louder and more passionate. State Champs were already announced as support when this show went on sale, and based on the reaction to them it seems like a large portion of the crowd might have bought tickets purely for these guys.
A complete contrast to the “sweaty packed show at the Underworld” that they put on the night before, Derek excitedly shared that it was “probably the most unique, different show we’ve ever got to play”. State Champs own the room when they perform acoustically. Yes, they do pop-punk well, but it looks like they might do acoustic even better… Don’t be too surprised if they announce an acoustic tour sooner rather than later. 

Setlist:
Elevated
Simple Existence
Losing Myself
If I’m Lucky
Stick Around
Easy Enough
Secrets

Notice how I said that State Champs almost stole the show? That’s because nothing can beat Sleeping With Sirens when they perform acoustically. Just look at the success their acoustic EPs (‘If You Were a Movie, This Would Be Your Soundtrack’ and ‘Live and Unplugged’ respectively). It’s unprecedented.
Put that talent in a live environment, you have something special. Make that live environment a structurally beautiful church with amazing acoustics and an enthusiastic fan base? You’re in for the show of your life.
Successfully mixing all of the eras of their career in a varied and well-crafted set, this was the Sleeping With Sirens show that I’d always wanted to see. There were songs I’d never heard live before reimagined in the acoustic style, interspersed with multiple covers: Sublime’s ‘Santeria’ and ‘Iris’ by The Goo Goo Dolls, with snippets from ‘Killing Me Softly’, ‘Can’t Get No’, and – bizarrely – Nickelback’s ‘Photograph’. If I were to say there was something for everyone at this Sleeping With Sirens show, I wouldn’t be lying.
Of course, the fact that the show was in a church became a strong motif through the set, and while it was bordering on cringe-inducing there were a few genuinely comical moments from vocalist Kellin Quinn. When introducing ‘Scene One’, Kellin quipped “this song’s about love, so hopefully it will help you find love… Getting into your bedroom and doing what the Lord made you to do!”. After encouraging everyone to stand up (being in a church the entire audience was sat in pews facing the stage), he ended the song by announcing “please be seated, God bless you!”. Guitarist Nick Martin gestured the crowd to stand up at a few more points later in the evening, and like the loyal congregation listening to the Lord’s words they all did: there’s not much that the loyal fans of this band would question being asked to do.
Nick was certainly grateful to all of the fans in attendance, and not just for their unquestioning obedience to all of his demands. He took a moment towards the middle of the set to “say thank you to all the people who get there very, very early. Your dedication means the world to us, and getting to put on a show like this for you guys is awesome”.
At the end of the set Kellin thanked everyone and said he actually had fun at the show, to which the crowd started cheering. He clarified “that’s not about you, all respect to you guys, but that’s about me. I actually had fun doing this, I had fun making music”.
That much was obvious. Compared to shows I’ve seen in the past they were much more relaxed, all of the members were happily interacting with the crowd (drummer Gabe Barham even coming out from behind his kit to go up to the microphone and share how much fun he was having), and the interactions between the members themselves (including the witty banter flying back and forth across the stage) seemed much more jovial.
Kellin said early in the night that the set was “so weird and so different” because it was all coming from the band members: “if I forget the words and fuck up, that’s on me. If we play the song too fast, that’s on us too”. If the increased risk of mistakes would make most bands nervous, it seemed to do the opposite to these five. I’ve never seen them look more relaxed or comfortable up on stage, every member having a big smile on his face.
This was a bucket list show for me. When I started listening to Sleeping With Sirens I always aimed straight for ‘If You Were a Movie…’, and getting to hear a couple of the songs from that EP live was a dream that I’d thought would be unattainable. When they announced the show in March I knew I had to be here, and while I wish there’d been less of a leaning towards the newer material and more older surprises, I also really appreciate and admire the work that they did to play a career-spanning setlist in a stage time of only an hour. I can’t wait to see which songs they’ll choose to perform as a full band at Reading.
With Kellin dedicating ‘Santeria’ to his friend Machine Gun Kelly, who was in the audience at the show, I’m keeping all of my fingers crossed that they might perform a certain collaboration at the festival on Sunday (Sleeping With Sirens follow State Champs on the main stage, while MGK is performing later in the day on the Lock Up stage). I’m going to be watching their entire set just in case, so here’s hoping.
Nick did announce that they’re going to start working on a new album soon, and they will be back over here “as soon as possible”: I’m sure it’s going to be interesting, whatever they do next. I just know that if they ever announce another acoustic show in the UK, I’m going to be there. This is an experience I already want to relive. 

Setlist:
Scene Five: With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear
Scene One: If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn
Gold
Free Now
Who Are You Now?
Go Go Go
Santeria (Sublime cover)
Save Me a Spark
Iris (The Goo Goo Dolls cover)
The Strays

If You Can’t Hang