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Knuckle Puck & Real Friends Sell-Out Manhattan's Irving Plaza on SANTACON!

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Crossing through twenty-seven cities this fall, pop punk necessities, Real Friends and Knuckle Puck, have taken over North America yet again with their most recent co-headlining tour series. With brand new, full-length albums from both artists, the tour offers a stacked setlist with classics from their discographies as well as tracks never heard live before. Although the tour is coming to an end, both bands promise to return to stages in the new year, and Real Friends even announced “we will be back in the studio immediately after this tour,” at Irving Plaza this past Saturday.

Real Friends - Irving Plaza

Opening the mosh pits first was Chicago-based pop punk essential, Knuckle Puck, currently composed of vocalist Joe Taylor, lead guitarist Kevin Maida, percussionist John Siorek, rhythm guitarist Nick Cassasanto, and bassist Ryan Rumchaks. The band was formed in 2010 by the remaining singer, guitarist, and drummer Joe Taylor, Kevin Maida, and John Siorek, who crafted the name from a Stick to Your Guns shirt, a term referencing a shot in ice hockey. The group began writing original songs in mid-2011 after initiating standing guitarist Nick Cassasanto and shortly after, the band booked a co-headlining tour alongside Seaway in 2013. Since then, the band has released a total of four studio albums alongside numerous EPs and singles which has landed them high rankings on the Heatseekers Albums chart and endless critical acclaim. 

In late September of 2023, Knuckle Puck announced their latest album Losing What We Love through Pure Noise Records which was released to the public officially on October 20, 2023. As one of the most celebrated acts in the modern pop-punk scene, Knuckle Puck’s most recent release was highly anticipated, and fans have been waiting all fall to hear the LP performed on stages. The record dives into the emotional state of the band members, who have focused considerably on the lyrics and relatability of the tracks. The album is an attempt to lean into the transition between a high point in life to a low point, while acknowledging that nothing can stay the same forever.

The tracks were recorded with longtime producer Seth Henderson, who has contributed to the productions of State Champs and tour companions Real Friends but also produced the band’s 2022 EP, “Disposable Life.” Losing What We Love marks the band’s first LP released under Pure Noise Records, and although Knuckle Puck’s sound continues to evolve instrumentally throughout the 11-song tracklist, longtime listeners can hear the consistent essence of the band’s songwriting. In fact, Knuckle Puck openly stated this album contains more in-studio writing than ever before, with Taylor pointing to tracks such as the album opening “A New Beginning,” “Worlds Away,” and “The Tower.” Losing What We Love progresses Knuckle Puck’s musical evolution through tracks such as “The Tower” and “Better Late,” which recalibrates their collective creative ethos while continuing to push their sound forward stylistically and advancing their collaborative skills internally. 

“This time around, we started writing more honestly with less intent to sound cool or hopeful,” elaborates guitarist Cassasanto, “This record feels like more of an expression than a motivational speech.” 

It wasn’t long after Knuckle Puck revealed themselves on stage that the crowd spread apart and crowd surfers began flying through raised arms towards the performers. Opening the set with a track fresh off their latest release, Losing What We Love, “The Tower” invigorated the crowd immediately with distorted guitars and driving rhythms that encapsulated the entire audience from the first riff alone. Knuckle Puck’s setlist, as a whole, is stockpiled with high-energy, raunchy tracks the scene has grown to adore, making the atmosphere overall vibrant and engaging. Although the tour is partially in promotion of their latest release, Knuckle Puck made sure to satisfy die-hard fans with numerous songs off their debut, Copacetic, including closing the set off with the pop-punk classic, “Untitled.” Ultimately, Knuckle Puck are known to diversify their setlist with a mix of hits and deep cuts, catering to fans from all eras of the band and ensuring you’ll always hear a new song no matter how many times you’ve seen Knuckle Puck perform live. 

Typical to the pop-punk and punk rock genres, Knuckle Puck entered New York City with a promise to keep the pits open and adrenaline high throughout the entire thirteen song setlist, and they did just that! The band truly makes a stage their own, utilizing every inch of it with an intricate stage set up that somewhat mimics a living room and dynamic instrumentalists who incorporate every inch of the stage into their performance, kicking and jumping around from one end to the other throughout every song. Yet, a Knuckle Puck show wouldn’t be as lively as it is without the raw and gritty instrumentation listeners have popularized the band for. Knuckle Puck’s music provides a sense of urgency and energy, the ideal combination for monumental mosh pits and continuous crowd-surfers. 

Drummer, John Siorek, leads the band with fast-paced, upbeat tempos, making frequent dynamic changes to match the musical intensity, occasionally accentuating certain beats to heighten the impact musically and reinvigorate listeners, especially those in a live audience. Siorek’s talents instrumentally translate on stage seamlessly, making the production top-notch and exhilarating. One thing Siorek has become sensationalized for is his double-time drum patterns which adds additional depth to the music and provides audience members with an impeccable beat to two-step in the pits along with. Fans went absolutely nuts during the sections where the tempo doubled, the sold-out ballroom was shaking from the exuberance of the crowd. At the same time, bassist Ryan Rumchaks performs in tandem with the drums to build upon the core of the song, emphasizing root notes in his instrumentation. What makes Ryan Rumchaks stand out amongst other pop-punk bassists is his signature syncopation techniques which adds subtle grooves to tracks to create rhythmic interplay between the drums and guitars. Rumchaks tasteful use of groove and effects within his bass lines naturally makes Knuckle Puck’s music effortless to dance along to and painless to get stuck in your head.

Adding onto the punch Siorek and Rumchaks establish, guitarists Kevin Maida and Nick Cassasanto build upon this drive with power chords intertwined with fast-picking and strumming patterns, providing a fuller sound that continues to build upon the energetic ambiance of Knuckle Puck’s beloved tunes. Despite being categorized as pop-punk by the industry, Knuckle Puck frequently taps into elements from the hardcore scene, infusing breakdowns and aggressive guitar sections throughout songs that live audiences go crazy for, Irving Plaza being no exception. All in all, Knuckle Puck’s vocal style is a key component of their overall raw and authentic sound which shines through in lyrics fans have found deeper meanings within.

Vocalist, Joe Taylor, is known to maintain crisp enunciation throughout songs, even though emotional delivery is a key-aspect in the pop-punk scene, Knuckle Puck’s music tells a story and Taylor ensures the storylines are clear and understandable for fans to resonate with–and listeners surely do. Irving Plaza was belting their hearts out song after song through all thirteen of the live renditions, relaying every single lyric word-for-word, especially in the moments Taylor let the audience have the microphone. It is safe to say Knuckle Puck have solidified their place as a fan-favorite in the pop-punk scene, at least in New York City, so if you haven’t heard their latest release, Losing What We Love, hop on the bandwagon now and stream the tracks below! 

Closing off the night in Irving Plaza was another cherished Illinois-based pop punk group, Real Friends, consisting of guitarist Dave Knox, bassist Kyle Fasel, rhythm guitarist Eric Haines, drummer Brian Blake, and vocalist Cody Muraro. Surfacing the scene in 2010 as well, Real Friends are currently signed to Pure Noise Records with a total of seven EPs and three studio albums produced. The band has spent years refining their sound and adapting an approach completely authentic to Real Friends, further making them one of the leading bands in the pop-punk scene alongside Knuckle Puck. The band signed their first record deal in late 2013 with Fearless Records alongside much apprehension. Bassist, Kyle Fasel, commented on how the group “still wanted full control of our band” and employed Fearless to solely help with marketing and distribution. This proved to be beneficiary for the release of their debut album in the summer of 2014, Maybe This Place Is The Same and We’re Just Changing,  which sold over 10,000 copies and charted at number 24 on the Billboard 200. In 2021, the band announced their deal with Pure Noise Records alongside releasing a handful of tracks and an EP all leading up to their most recent release, There’s Nothing Worse Than Too Late, which dropped on February 24, 2023.

There’s Nothing Worse Than Too Late is a follow-up to the band’s previous 2021 EP, Torn in Two, which was a showcase of things to come for Real Friends musically. Torn in Two confesses to the bands growth and evolution stylistically, while still maintaining Real Friends’ authentic sound. There’s Nothing Worse Than Too Late is a continuation of Real Friends’ musical progression, while honing on the band’s earlier influences for inspiration. The album was written and recorded over a year and a half time frame alongside producer Andrew Wade, from the likes of Neck Deep and A Day To Remember, with support from sound engineer Kris Crummett, who has worked with tour partners Knuckle Puck in the past. The album addresses themes of depression, death, cutting long lasting ties for good, and many other heavy subject matters that listeners can find solace in. The band's ultimate goal was to create another timeless album, one that fans can listen back on five or ten years later and still connect with, or at least feel something from. With over six million streams on the opening track alone, I am certain this release will be a fan favorite in the band’s discography and become ageless as the band has intended. 

When speaking on the new EP, Real Friends concluded, “at the end of it all, if our fans feel less alone because of these songs then it’s a success in our eyes.”

The band’s everlasting adoration for their supporters is something all of Irving Plaza felt on Saturday evening, and something you’ll undeniably witness if you attend a Real Friends performance. Whether headlining a tour series or performing on a festival stage, Real Friends connect with their audiences phenomenally, making everyone feel as if they are a part of the performance instead of a spectator simply paying to attend. Real Friends popularity partially stems from their emotionally-charged lyrics which fans have found comfort and consolidation in. In this way, the atmosphere at a Real Friends concert is friendly and inviting, the emotional sentiment is heightened in a way that makes everyone feel connected and a part of a tight-knit family who understand each other deeply. Lead singer, Cody Muraro, does a fantastic job absorbing the crowd’s attention and establishing an inclusive community from Real Friends music. His performance is full of vitality, from crowd surfing multiple times, jumping up on the barricade to serenade individual fans, pushing sing-along moments, and, my personal favorite moment in the set, joining the center of the pit for the acoustic track, “Teeth.” 

Even though the crowd had already moshed their way through three performances, Real Friends stepped out to a sold out Irving Plaza only to immediately be met with bodies flying over heads and a circle forming in the center of general admission. I have to say, Real Friends might’ve had the most crowd surfers I’ve seen at a performance this year, in fact, there were so many, the venue had to employ extra security at the front of the barricade to assist with the masses flying forward. Despite the heartbreak often presented in their music, Real Friends’ performances are lively, demonstrating the band’s ability to effortlessly connect with their audience on a deeper level. The standout moment in the set for us was when vocalist, Cody Muraro, joined the crowd for the live rendition of “Teeth,” performed acoustically from the center of the pit. This was the only moment of the New York City performance where the entire crowd became silent, calming down completely to be serenaded, with phone flashlights spotlighting Muraro in the crowd. 

Even so, Real Friends wouldn’t be considered so sacred in the pop-punk industry if it weren’t for their gritty, energetic instrumentation. At the root of it all is drummer Brian Blake who creates the mosh pit-worthy tempos through his intricate drum patterns that incorporate hi-hat and ride cymbals as well as occasional tom drums. On this note, a leading characteristic of Blake’s percussion style is his thorough drum fills and punk-style breakdowns which adds cohesion to the music overall. When combined with Kyle Fasel’s driving basslines, the music emphasizes catchy and melodic elements while maintaining a boisterous rhythm through a mix of root notes, octave jumps, and concurring bass fills. Guitarists Dave Knox and Eric Haines contribute to the melodic tendencies of Real Friends tracks through power chords that harbor a punchy and powerful sound as well as layered arrangements that generate full and textured sonic landscapes. Real Friends music contains some of the most beloved lead guitar sections which hone in on adding variation and interest through solos or melodic leads, honored extensively in their acoustic tracks. All of this combined with the expressive singing style Cody Muraro possesses formulates tracks you can scream along with in mosh pits but also cry alone in your bed to.

Irving Plaza warmly welcomed back Knuckle Puck and Real Friends to New York City this past Saturday with an unforgettable show that surely both the crowd and band members will reminisce about for a long time. The tour series is wrapping up in its final cities over the next few days but don’t fear if you’ve missed out this time around as both bands promise to return to stages soon with brand new music for fans to hear!




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