11/29/15 – The Royale

Watching the Front Bottoms grow from a shaggy headed duo playing in basement bars to selling out mid-size concert venues has been nothing short of inspiring. Playing an energy-packed show at the Royale, full of old favorites and new hits, the Front Bottoms proved that they truly are back on top.

Following a somewhat – though fittingly – glib performance from Asheville-based Elvis Depressedly and an excessively sweaty set from Australia’s Smith Street Band, the Front Bottoms emerged to a rowdy, excited crowd.

Elvis Depressedly played a delightful balance of synth-laden and daintily plucked guitar riffs. Their lo-fi, minimalist lyrics and vocals created a distance between them and the crowd, who were antsy in anticipation, but there was energy to be found within their set. Though not the most dynamic band to watch on stage, Elvis Depressedly ended the set with vocalist Mat Cothran launching into a cathartic screaming bout, blurring the lines between noise pop and screamo.

The Smith Street Band brought a more lively set, bridging the gap between the moody pop of the previous set and the angsty indie of that yet to come. Howling vocals and reckless guitar underscored a near constant smirk on frontman Wil Wagner’s face, half hidden beneath a shaggy head of red hair. Wagner’s goofiness offset the harshness of some of their songs, sounding like an Australian Jeff Rosenstock while dancing around the stage.  

Releasing their third studio album, Back On Top in September, the Front Bottoms have shown themselves to be slightly out of touch with their pop-punk roots. Lacking the charming narrative quality of frontman Brian Sella’s voice, the album didn’t quite grab at the core of angsty hearted fans. But when Sella opened the show with an energetic rendition of “Wolfman,” Back On Top found redemption.

Pulling a few songs from 2014’s EP Rose into the lineup, as well as selections from Talon Of The Hawk and 2011’s self-titled release, the Front Bottoms played an energetic set with nary a quiet voice in the house. As has become customary at Front Bottoms shows, there were moments in which the audience was singing louder than Sella. They’ve created a community within their fan base, connecting with people through deeply personal and colloquial lyrics.

“The Beers” marked the halfway point in the set, as well as the height of personal connection with the audience. “And I will remember that summer, as the summer I was taking steroids,” Sella sang. “Because you like a man with muscles, and I like you.” With heavy handed drums played by Mat Uychich and rhythmic guitar courtesy of Sella, the set was full of raw, youthful energy. The heads banging and fists pumping in the crowd made it feel like some grungy basement college kegger. Quite apropos, considering the content of the song: “There’s beer, in coffee mugs, water bottles, and soda cups…”

A lull came with the lesser known songs – the songs less indicative of the band’s character. “HELP,” despite its fast-moving guitar riffs, fell flat with the crowd, as did “Handcuffs.” “Maps” had a restorative quality for the crowd, but it was clear that Sella, Uychich, and the rest of the band were running out of steam, just as the audience was. “Laugh Till I Cry” promoted more of the latter and felt a bit forced, with a distracted crowd tapping away on their phones while the visibly tired band trudged on.

Re-emerging for a four-song encore, the Front Bottoms allowed the audience to nominate the setlist. Amid cries of various as-of-yet unheard tunes, “Twelve Feet Deep” stood out. They asked and they received, but not before one song from their self-titled and another from the latest release, which was one of the best, most truly Front Bottoms songs on Back On Top. “Historic Cemetery” brought a mellow sort of fun, with lyrics proclaiming the desire to be “getting high, and trying to figure it out” with a friend, something that resonated with the crowd.

The Front Bottoms closed out the night with “Twin Size Mattress” as they always do, offering the audience a different rendition of the recorded hit. The Front Bottoms have matured in their sound, moving away from the sloppy, goofy garage rockers fans fell in love with. They’ve transformed into something more coherent and where the fledgling band was melancholic, this new incarnation is pessimistic and cautious.

After the explosive success of “Twin Size Mattress,” and a shift to label Fueled By Ramen earlier this year, the Front Bottoms have shed their sloppy garage band days and become much more refined in sound and show. But it doesn’t make them any less endearing, and they’ve been careful not to let fame cloud their judgment. A solid show crowns them back on top of the revived pop punk scene.

 

Masters of (Pop) Punk: The Front Bottoms
Pros
  • Diverse setlist
  • Commanded attention from crowd
  • Visible growth in band's sound and presence
Cons
  • Spent energy too soon into set
  • Too rowdy crowd at times
  • Too mellow for the atmosphere
9Masters of (pop) punk

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