THE FRONT BOTTOMS (WITH SUPPORT FROM BRICK & MORTAR, THE SMITH STREET BAND).
VENUE: LONDON ROUNDHOUSE
DATE: 28TH FEBRUARY 2018
For a band who’s name literally means vagina, its admirable to think about how far the New Jersey outfit has come since starting out in 2006. These days the term emo can rarely be deflected without thinking about how much of a positive influence they’ve had over the modern scene, and whilst in recent years ‘Going Grey’ and ‘Back On Top’ have steered towards a more straight forward pop direction, tonight is their biggest UK show to date. Despite our country’s reputation for falling apart at the slightest touch of snowfall, the historic Roundhouse is rammed and no amount of cancelled trains and traffic jams can stop tonight’s endeavors.
“The highlight of course being nipple tassels alongside a rousing speech about the importance of being open about mental health”
First up are fellow New Jersey two piece BRICK & MORTAR (6), who at first seem content with projecting their lo fi, Wavves esque indie jams to a mostly deer in the headlights crowd, but up the ante with elaborate costume changes. The highlight of course being nipple tassels alongside a rousing speech about the importance of being open about mental health, they manage to win the crowd over and remind us that silliness can be just as endearing as heart wrenching punk songs.
Not to be outdone by the main support, Australia’s answer to contemporary emo, THE SMITH STREET BAND (8) are delightful as they are brutally honest in their delivery. Frontman Wil Wagner shares with us stories of heartbreak, having strangers watch him undress at a venue from the other side of a window, and his struggles with mental health. Coupled with raucous choruses from the likes of ‘Death To The Lads’ to ‘Surrender’, there’s rarely a dull moment to be had here, solidifying themselves as more than just a warm up act and tugging the heartstrings of the audience as the end on ‘Throw Me In The River.
As THE FRONT BOTTOMS (9) emerge, the lights momentarily shut off and we are greated with swirling on screen visuals, extra accompaniment in the form of a trumpet player and violinist and an overall sense that they’ve gone all out on stage theatrics for this tour. Somehow this manages to greatly outdo the sofa aesthetic they brought along on the ‘Back On Top’ tour in 2016.
“LIVE THIS BAND GIVES give far more emotional weight than a recorded track ever could…”
Opening on ‘You Used To Say (Holy Fuck)’, any gripes about their commercial direction are quickly vanquished by how intense the audience’s response is, accompanied by their strategic setlist which manages to sandwich classic tunes such as ‘Maps’ with their newer material. The mainstream sensibilities of anthems such as ‘Peace Sign’ and ‘Grand Finale’ never feel cheapened by the synth heavy instrumentation, instead they sound far more put together and grandiose in a live setting.
Whilst uplifting sing alongs are a staple of a Front Bottoms gig, it feels extra special to hear songs like ‘Flashlight’ and ‘Twin Sized Mattress’ in such a big room, enhancing that nostalgic, fuzzy feeling you get when singing along to your favorite tunes with your friends tenfold. Lines such as “When I am sad oh I am sad but when I am happy, oh god I’m happy” give far more emotional weight live than a recorded track ever could, and ultimately it puts TFB beyond the label of simply being a “feel good band.” There’s a genuine sense of emotional release in their down to earth lyrics and catchy hooks which has the audience weeping with joy one moment and tussling along with their friends the next.
Frontman Brian Sella is surprisingly reserved this time around when talking to the audience, but at least he delivers on his promise of smashing his guitar by the time we reach ‘Ocean’ during the encore, having gracefully blitzed through 21 songs and finishing their European tour with finesse.
WORDS: ASHWIN BHANDRI