For a band that creates music destined to be played when rolling down the windows and road tripping to the beach, the measly (but typical) British attempt at snow and its cold biting weather on the faces queueing for The Front Bottoms tonight is ill-fitting. In fact it’s indicative that Bristol isn’t quite ready for what they’re going to witness and experience at the show.
Opening the show are New Jersey duo Brick and Mortar. Compiled of nothing but vocals, drums, synth, and a . . . dedicated dancer, their performance is almost certainly something that you’ve never seen before; think banners resembling protest signs, twirling nipple tassels and air humping; we told you Bristol wasn’t ready. This surreal performance combined with songs that are cleverly composed to invoke movement encourage a solid effort from the crowd flinging their arms around more than a Tuesday evening would usually receive.
Having to follow a frankly, unforgettable performance, The Smith Street Band take to the stage and offer a more traditional show. No generic stage chat, no blatant tricks to encourage audience participation, the only thing they’ve got up their sleeve is infinite levels of contagious energy and enjoyable tunes – tunes that are reminiscent of nostalgia-inducing bands like The Menzingers, perfectly curated to be nothing but loved by fans of The Front Bottoms.
For a band that, throughout most of their career, have created music with such a raw, underproduced and frank overtone, seeing relatively big production efforts in larger capacity venues is initially jarring. Four screens depicting random animations, scenes reflecting the meaning of lyrics, and the band logo displayed in a variety of ways, (including a Stranger Things tribute) it doesn’t quite complement their humble demeanour. But based on production values from the newest album and the performance they give this evening, it’s beginning to make sense.
The O2 Academy is good enough as it is full, exuding an energy that’s packed with anticipation and excitement on the verge of bursting. In fact, with just the mere first few notes of opening track You Used to Say (Holy Fuck), The Front Bottoms pop that balloon and hands religiously start clapping, swiftly followed by surprising circle pits to Skeleton and Backflip. In larger venues with more curated lighting, there’s more room to exert this undeniable energy. Big production for them makes sense.
The band unconventionally allow requests too, performing infrequently heard songs like Peach and Plastic Flowers. It’s rare to see a band take requests and see it through too, leaving fans feeling surprised, completely warmed, and simultaneously overwhelmed with choices from a huge back catalogue. This idea of going back to their roots, almost rewarding fan loyalty, only builds on their listener numbers, and playing larger venues because of this makes complete sense.
Despite the clear growth in status over the past couple of years, The Front Bottoms successfully create a sense of closeness to the crowd, one that would be felt exclusively in a club venue. They refer to past experiences in the city, singling out a memorable fan experience (vomiting is involved) – an experience that even the aforementioned fan was there to hear the tale be retold this evening. They’ve mastered the balance of keeping it personal and presenting visual professionalism down to a T, and could make it work in venues double the size. Again, it all just makes sense.
A constant to-ing and fro-ing of older songs, new songs, ‘classics’, and album tracks; the dichotomy of sound between each one just cements the idea that it makes sense for The Front Bottoms to have and present with bigger and better. The fans in Bristol weren’t ready to witness such a faultless show, but after seeing it, now want it on a more grand scale. With an apparent secured fanbase and a sonically-focussed vision to reflect that, there’s no doubt in our minds that this is what the future holds for them.
Review by: Natalie Lam