College-age malaise and a performance by The Front Bottoms
By Eli Enis
There isn’t any other band that embodies the college-age years like The Front Bottoms do. These late adolescent times are strange, fast moving moments that are decisive of our futures, while equally regarded as the best days of our lives.
As months feel like weeks and we have trouble recalling what happened last Saturday night, we long for something tangible to cling to. What we need is someone to shove the proverbial mirror in our faces, record our self-critical reactions and play that clusterfuck of emotions back to us in a way we can make sense of. We need someone who gets it.
Brian Sella, vocalist and lyricist of The Front Bottoms, gets it. He and his bandmates have developed a loyal, cult-like following, filled with like-minded adolescents who swear by Sella’s terrifyingly relatable and brutally candid lyrics. There’s something unique about TFB fans. Finding out someone is into them exceeds a shared appreciation for pop-punky, emo rock. It confirms that he or she is wired the same way and subscribes to a similar lifestyle. It confirms that that person also gets it. Roughly 1,000 of those types of people flocked to Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park, N.Y. on Oct. 17 to laugh, cry and scream together as TFB performed.
But before the titans of the evening took the stage, the crowd was treated to an eclectic couple of opening acts. Neo-shoegaze unit Elvis Depressedly kicked off the night with some upbeat, rocky renditions of their otherwise foggy, lo-fi recorded material. Stylistically, they were the odd band out on the tour, but the modified versions of their songs supplied enough oomph to keep a majority of the heads bobbing throughout. However, their performance was quickly outshone by Australia’s The Smith Street Band who went absolutely berserk for a full 45 minutes. Displaying more energy onstage than both TFB and Elvis Depressedly combined, the folky, big-room punk quartet seemed to win over most of the room as the applause grew exponentially throughout the set.
Although The Smith Street Band took home the gold for enthusiasm (mainly because their songs are faster than TFB’s), the crowd’s reaction for the evening’s stars was unmatched. Additionally, Sella and Co. were strikingly tight musically. Their 20-song set list consisted of the near entirety of their new album “Back On Top,” as well as the obligatory fan favorites (“Twin Size Mattress,” “Flashlight” and “Skeleton”), back catalogue deep cuts (“Tattooed Tears,” “Rhode Island” and “Be Nice to Me”) and even “Wolfman” off of their recent record with rapper and companion GDP.
Obviously, the band had been dying for a chance to play new material after steadily touring on 2013’s “Talon of the Hawk” since its release, but what made the songs from “Back On Top” so special was that they’re designed for the live setting. The fuzzy riffs in “Summer Shandy” and “Historic Cemeteries,” the infectious choruses of “Laugh Till I Cry” and “West Virginia,” and the colossal sing-alongs in “Plastic Flowers” and “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” were done justice by the passionate crowd’s response. Even the more laid back, summery vibes of “HELP” and “Cough It Out” fit nicely alongside their older material.
The most likely intoxicated Sella kept his irreverent banter between songs relatively short (except for his one Blink-182-esque quip about wearing women’s underwear), as he took the time to glance back at his bandmates to giggle at inside jokes. However, when he did address the crowd, it was to express his gratitude for their support and to make note of his love and admiration for his tour mates and behind-the-scenes crew. The band’s easygoing onstage demeanor was equivalent to how they project themselves in their music videos and interviews, which added to the authenticity of their overall character and made their songs that much more loveable.
The highlights of the evening were when the whole sweaty mass was synergistically shouting back quintessential lines like, “Hey man I Iove you but no fucking way,” and “When I am sad, oh god I’m sad – but when I’m happy, I am happy” at the top of its collective lungs. That crowd, which had become one entity, was unlike an ordinary group of music fans. These were people who were visibly tearing up, uncontrollably smiling, and almost instinctively swaying, flailing and jumping to the songs that had shaped their very identities.
Is that heavy handed? Are TFB really some sort of magical, all-knowing, all-healing power who touch the lives of each pair of ears their music graces? Are they the solution to late-teen, early twenty-something angst? Was this concert a divine, life-changing experience destined for the history books?
Probably not. But that concert demonstrated to all 1,000 attendees that they’re all in this awkward, stressful, continually intoxicated stretch of life together. TFB fosters a niche audience that connects with their music on an abnormally deep level. And that audience and I are proud to say we’re creatures of the culture that they create.