New Jersey’s poster boys of indie rock brought their understated confessions back to the UK this month, stopping off at the 1865 in Southampton for an intimate and very special evening.
There was an air of calm anticipation in the queue for The Front Bottoms show at the 1865. Despite the icy winds of early December fans had been steadily arriving for hours and were happily exchanging stories and basking in the excitement for the evening to follow. The Front Bottoms have played a handful of UK tours and over the course of their career, and during these visits here the fans that queue up for the barrier spot have become friends.
A few hours before doors Brian Sella, lead vocal and guitarist, appeared and smiled at the group sat on the pavement. Nobody got up, but huge grins broke out on everyone’s faces and I saw a girl who was at her first TFB show gasp. “Hey guys how’s it going?” Sella asked before complementing a girls t-shirt and clambering back onto the tour bus. The chatter among the queue resumes. It is this comfortable relationship with fans which keeps so many of them coming back, and that gives this band one of their more unique qualities.
Doors open at 7 and slowly the venue begins to fill. Apologies, I Have None start the evening with honest lyrics embedded in mainly serious sounding instrumentals. Though the music has depth it struggles to find life and as is with most support acts, the crowd isn’t completely hooked. But a few fists go up during their more well-known tracks and recent hit Everybody Wants To Talk About Mental Health turns some heads.
When Gnarwolves take to the stage the atmosphere changes; thirty seconds into their opening track a mosh pit appears and the crowd surfing begins. Suddenly the whole room is moving (those who don’t want to don’t have a choice) and the band look proud to see this rabble as they tare through their heartfelt skate punk. The sound of thrashing guitar and percussion lifts through the venue and here I see a band genuinely having a good time playing together. They joke and chat between songs and it’s easy to understand why a portion of the crowd gathered for tonight’s show are there primarily to see Gnarwolves. By the end of the set everyone is bouncing to the unashamedly stereotypical pop-punk lyrics to best known track Bottle To Bottle.
At 9:15 The Front Bottoms casually take to the stage, walking on as a unit and opening the beers they each have lined up by their instruments. The crowd roars and the band smile into the audience before launching into Skeleton. They play in the only way they know how; unpolished, unpredictably and with the same integrity you would expect from any band with 9 years of experience.
They play a mixture of classic fan favourites and new hit songs, which translate from record to live with their own unique edge. What makes all the difference is the slight improvisational nature of the way they play, Sella altering lyrics and the way he delivers them, making more than a few audience members swoon.
The crowd themselves never calmed down after Gnarwolves, and so from my centre barrier position I spent a large portion of the show lifting crowd surfers over to the bouncers. Midway through the set they stopped to thank the security for “keeping everyone safe.” But they do this with a grin, and it’s easy to see that these messy garage style shows are what this band truly hope for.
Some of my personal favourites are missed, note-ably 2015’s Wolfman and recent release Joanie but this doesn’t dent the quality of the performance nor the quantity of the 19 song setlist. The band stops to take requests from the audience, and laugh amongst themselves whilst trying to decide which to play. The end of the evening is drawing near but there is no energy lost in the crowd, the roar of the audience screaming what is perhaps the band’s most iconic lyric: “With tears in my eyes I begged you to stay, you said hey man I love you but no fucking way” sounds as if it could be heard over the entire city of Southampton.
The band return for a two song encore and Brian Sella’s slow solo rendition of Twelve Feet Deep draws a few tears in the eyes of people around me. They end the show in the same nature it started, with a chaotic version of a long-time audience favourite, this time it’s 2010 hit Maps.
Here I note a band who hasn’t changed since the first time I saw them play. They may have a bigger tour bus and 700 more people listening but they play like it’s their first show to a crowd, smile as if they haven’t been touring for almost two years solid. It’s not perfect but nobody here is asking them to be, and when the lights to go up there is not one unhappy face in the crowd.
Photo courtesy of Ethan Jones (insta: @earth.boyy)