It’s three minutes until showtime and The Pyramid Scheme‘s tile floor is becoming harder and harder to see with each passing second. A packed room, filled with people stretching from their teens well into middle age shuffle toward the front as the lights briefly dim to transition from white to flickering red as local band made good Sleeping With Sirens walk onto stage. Drinks go in the air as the band appears dressed in all black against a stage that is essentially bare. On any other night this would seem uncharacteristically minimal for the global headliners, but not tonight.
This is the first of three last minute pop-up shows Sleeping With Sirens has planned for the days ahead. Their Warner Bros. Records debut Gossip is still six weeks from release and their accompanying release tour is a month from kicking off, but right now those concerns are the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. Within moments of appearing on stage the band breaks into their 2015 hit “Kick Me” and the crowds begins to bounce. Everything other than the present moment is pushed from the collective conscious of the room and 400 people are connected to the sound of five men.
It’s only fitting that this chapter of Sleeping With Sirens’ career start here. A major label debut is a new beginning, and just like their actual beginning Grand Rapids, MI is welcoming them with open arms and soaring chorus. Three members – vocalist Kellin Quinn, bassist Justin Hills, and drummer Gabe Barham – have roots in the mitten state, and Quinn comments early on that he’s recently moved back to the nearby town of Muskegon. “So if anyone tells you Sleeping With Sirens is from Orlando,” he comments three songs in, “that’s not really accurate. The majority of us are from right here.”
After following the opener with the recently released “Empire To Ashes” the band digs into their back catalog for a tour of fan favorites and internet hits. With each playlist ready anthem for loud music and young love you can feel the above twenty-one crowd begin to be reunited with the rebellious spirit that learning to survive adulthood often makes difficult to remember. As the worries of the world slide out of their minds you can see the room start to come alive, with pockets of people starting to move and raise their hands. They might not be singing along at full volume, but their lips mumble every line as they allow themselves to become lost in the moment.
Midway through the show Sleeping With Sirens slow things down just long enough to dedicate their Madness single “Better Off Dead” to anyone who has ever felt alone in their own skin. Quinn tells the room, “If someone like me, who should have all the friends in the fucking world, who has a million followers on Instagram and 1.7 million on Twitter can still feel like an alone fucking human being then it’s perfectly okay for you to feel alone as well.” The crowd cheers in agreement before once again singing along with every word to fall from Quinn’s mouth, only this time few – if any – hold back. Whatever element of resistance may have kept the audience from cutting loose when the band began has finally left the venue, ushering in a space where the communal element of SWS fandom can shine. We’re all in this together, united by the confession we sometimes feel alone.
The career spanning set continues with outspoken recognition of the role constant evolution has played in the band’s success. “we never want to make the same record twice,” Quinn comments ahead of “Legends,” the only other Gossip track performed this night. “If that’s the kind of band you’re looking for that’s perfectly fine, but that’s never been us. Every song sounds different than the one before it.” An advance stream of Gossip provided to Substream ahead of this performance proved had already this statement true. The anthemic record offers the band’s most experimental material to date without sacrificing the themes or catchiness that have been cornerstones of the group’s popularity since day one. Fans will be challenged, but in the best possible way.
— James Shotwell (@jamesdshotwell) August 11, 2017
When the final notes are played and the band inevitably shuffles off stage the bright house lights flicker on as a reminder that reality awaits everyone just outside the venue doors. Many avoid letting the positive energy disperse, choosing instead to huddle near the merch in hopes of meeting the band while feverishly checking social media on the phones they had managed to ignore for an all too brief moment in time.
There is another opportunity for Michigan fans to see the band in just over a month at Detroit’s iconic venue The Shelter, but the feeling won’t be the same. This night, which wasn’t even considered a possibility by anyone in the room just five days prior, was special. It may not have been the wildest show of all time, nor the one with the biggest production, but it did have the unique honor of being filled with people undeniably passionate about the music coming through the speakers. Everyone in that space had rearranged their lives to make the night happen, and everyone contributed to making it something every other person in the room would think about long after Gossip is in stores (on September 22).