“Let’s keep this going for Kyle.” – Dave Stephens, We Came As Romans
Only death can make time stop. No matter who you are, no matter where you go, the news that someone you loved has unexpectedly shuffled off the mortal coil will make you and the world around you come to a complete standstill.
Fans of alternative music have, for the most part, been fortunate in regards to death. For the better part of the last two decades, there have only been a few deaths within the so-called scene that took the world by surprise. The most notable of these is probably Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, who tragically passed in July 2017, but even his passing was one felt hardest by those who had largely aged out of the community of fans that helped bring the band to the forefront of the alternative scene.
Then August 25 happened. Kyle Pavone, the co-vocalist and keyboardist for Michigan’s We Came As Romans passed at the age of 28. Pavone’s death was a complete and total shock not just for fans, but also for the community of musicians that had toured alongside him for the previous decade. “You were an energy all your own,” wrote Of Mice & Men’s Aaron Pauley on Twitter after the news broke. Tens of thousands around the world echoed their thoughts with messages of their own, including Pavone’s bandmates, who released a statement mourning their fallen brother and quickly worked to launch a foundation in his honor. No one talked about new music or the future of the band because at the moment it didn’t matter.
A short while after Pavone’s funeral We Came As Romans announced they would indeed continue on, hoping in some small way that their decision to do so would honor Pavone. The band was already booked to serve as direct support on Bullet For My Valentine’s fall headlining run, which began just weeks after Pavone’s death, and they couldn’t bring themselves to stay away from the road. “I’m scared to see all the people and places on tour where we shared memories,” wrote bassist Andy Glass on Instagram shortly after the decision to continue touring was made public. “But I have to put that fear aside and face the storm. This is something I have to do because through our music is how you will live on. Through our music is how you will help others. And through our music, I will still be able to feel you. From now on every step I take on the road and every note I play on stage will be for you. I love you, Kyle.”
The only date of the tour set in the band’s home state took place last Sunday, September 30, at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids, MI. It was the first time the remaining members of We Came As Romans took the stage together in the land that had helped them find their footing in the industry since Pavone’s passing. The band played second, nestled between fast-rising Los Angeles based metal act Bad Omens and BFMV, but it didn’t take long for it to become clear that a large portion of the crowd had come specifically to see them. “I drove six hours to be there,” said one fan standing in line decked from head to toe in We Came As Romans merch. “Tonight is a memorial and concert all rolled into one. I’m going to sing until my lungs give out because Kyle can’t. I want him to hear me. Hell, I hope he hears all of us.”
In the moments before the band took the stage a banner was draped over the place where Pavone would stand on stage. On it, bold white letters spelled out his name and his time on the Earth (1990-2018). Fans cheered at the reveal, almost as loud as they cheered when the band actually arrived on stage, and from that moment forward there was an undeniable energy in the air that informed even those new to the group that something special was taking place.
The set started hard and fast. Dave Stephens, now a solo frontman for the first time in the band’s decade-plus career, took on the majority of vocal duties while Joshua Moore, Lou Cotton, Andy Glass, and David Puckett poured everything they had into ensuring a tight performance. The band made it through two tracks at almost breakneck pace before taking a moment to address the elephant in the room. “About a month ago,” Stephens began, “our brother Kyle Pavone died unexpectedly, and I didn’t know if we would be able to do this again.”
Before Stephens could utter another word, the crowd began chanting “Kyle” over and over. Their roar grew so loud the band not only recognized them, but from the upper deck of the venue, it was clear they were completely taken back. After all, none of them had performed in Michigan since Pavone’s passing, and it was clear that many in the crowd saw tonight as a chance to pay their respects.
“Thank you,” Stephens eventually said. “Let’s keep this going for Kyle.”
The crowd would start the same chant no less than two more times throughout the group’s 40-minute set, and each time every members of the band could be seen taking a moment to feel everything that was being sent their way.
As the set barreled on, it was impossible for those paying attention to ignore the new meaning found in many of We Came As Romans’ biggest hits. “To Plant A Seed,” one of the group’s first singles, may have had the biggest impact of the night. The audience sang every word, which brought a smile to the faces of those on stage, and there were only a few dry eyes in the room when the line “And our vision for this world will not die when we are dead” rang out across the crowded space. What once seemed like a declaration for a time that was far away now played like a song written for this exact moment, and those supporting WCAR took its message of striving to be more selfless to heart.
The band ended their set with “Cold Like War,” a song taken from their 2017 album of the same name. Once again, Stephens took on both lead vocal parts, but knowing it was the end of their time together the crowd stepped up as well. The voices of those gathered rang out just as loud as those of the members on stage, so much so that Stephens eventually dove into the crowd to sing with those who had given their all to support the group over the last month (not to mention all the years prior). While he bounced atop several dozen raised arms the rest of We Came As Romans got as close to the crowd as they could. In those moments, the room was united by a desire to make the magic of the night last forever.