Trying to remember the first time I heard the Front Bottoms is as abstract to me as remembering the first time I ate one of my favorite foods. It's unclear because I enjoyed them so much that they seamlessly found their place in my daily life, without room being made for them. If I was listening to music in my car, the Front Bottoms was on at some point. If I was making a mixtape, you know the Front Bottoms made the cut. I would send my ex-boyfriend "Tattooed Tears," to try to help him make sense of the way I was feeling about our relationship. I would send my best friends "Twelve Feet Deep," after we'd had a fun night out. They had an energy I understood, one I felt most bands have been lacking.
I never thought the Front Bottoms were ever trying to be the next best thing, or be like anything else out there. If there's one thing anyone should be able to hear in their music, it should be effortless originality. Maybe it's because I'm from New Jersey, or maybe it's because these guys just get me. Whatever it is, I've been hooked on them ever since I first heard them, whenever that was.
I'd been introduced to the band's really early stuff, which was pretty rough and self-released. Though I'd been listening to these tracks endlessly, when they released Talon of the Hawk in 2013, it was a breath of fresh air. I thought it was the highest quality release from the band yet. It was professional and composed, but the guys didn't lose the youthful energy of their earlier recordings. I was addicted and I couldn't wait for whatever was next to come from the group. It was a year later when they released Rose, an EP made up of their earliest songs that I'd already had such a strong connection to. They were the same songs I knew and loved, only some were reconstructed while others were just improved.
Ever since I started listening to the Front Bottoms, I didn't think they could create anything better than they already had. I thought Talon of the Hawk was as good as it could get, but then I heard Rose and knew I was wrong. At the news of their latest album release, Back on Top, which came out just last Saturday, I was weary about what was to come next. I'd heard the guys had been signed to Fueled By Ramen and I was worried they'd be tainted by a big label's influence, regardless of their reputation. Within seconds of the debut track on the album, I knew my worries were wasted, and I was hooked instantly. As soon as I downloaded Back on Top I couldn't stop listening. I found "HELP" looping over and over in my head when I wasn't even listening to it. On the train home from the city, I'd restart "The Plan (Fuck Jobs)" as soon as it'd end for the hour long commute. I'd doodle my favorite lyrical hooks in my notebook in class and just wait until I could listen to them again on my walk home. They stayed true to their original style but were only enhanced by big-label production. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Only days after they released Back on Top, I was lucky enough to see a close-knit acoustic set from the guys at Rough Trade in Brooklyn. Walking into the venue, I was surprised that rather than setting up, the bandmates were in the crowd drinking beer. Every show I ever go to, I have hopes of seeing the bands among the crowd or in the parking lot outside their van. I've been going to shows for almost ten years now, and the Front Bottoms are one of the few artists who were out and about. I saw bassist Tom Warren among friends, and drummer Mat Uychich mingling throughout the masses of people. I made my way as close to the stage as possible, which was actually super difficult despite the intimate crowd. Next to me were two different groups of excited fans gossiping about the band, awaiting their autographs after the set.
When lead singer Brian Sella entered the stage followed by Tom, Mat, and keys/guitar/trumpet player Ciaran O'Donnell, the conversations in the audience came to a screeching halt. These crowded conversations were replaced by a wind of howls and clapping. Brian smiled wide and humbly as he always does, and the band looked at him to immediately begin playing "HELP" as the set's opener.
It wasn't even a handful of days after Back On Top was released. Though I'd listened to the album nonstop these days awaiting the show, I still was fuzzy about all the lyrics. I thought if I didn't know them, then there's no way anyone else would, but to crush my egocentric, fangirl mentality, I was wrong. Brian had to compete with the audience to make his voice heard. I especially had trouble hearing Brian because there was a group of drunk kids next to me screaming the lyrics word for word, almost louder than half the crowd.
One of the main reasons I'm such a big Front Bottoms fan is because of their live show. It's always addictively interactive, as the crowd and the band work as one in making the night one huge party. There's not a chance I'm not crowd surfing, and you already know I'll be dancing with strangers screaming every word. This acoustic set wasn't the same volume as most their shows, but the energy I rely on from the band surely wasn't lost by the lack of a full drum kit, or blasting amplifiers.
Along with "HELP," the guys played their recent summer single "Laugh Till I Cry." After the song, Brian explained the story behind the bridge of the song. He shared the story of a buddy of theirs who DJ-ed a sweet 16 and got blackout drunk before the party even really started, inspiring the lyrics, "Ladies and gentlemen, the DJ just threw up on the dancefloor/party is over, it's time to go." The audience laughed in all the right places and hung on every word of Brian's personal anecdote. The best part was, the conversation wasn't one-directional. Brian and the guys would make comments, and between songs audience members would scream out quirky comments or compliments, which were always acknowledged by Brian or one of the band members.
In watching the Front Bottoms, you're not a faceless audience member. The guys look at you, they interact with you. You're among friends. It's a participatory performance versus the common presentational nature of many concerts. They remind audiences that music is a social, connecting force among humans, while using their music to create relationships versus not stardom.
I felt gratitude for that relationship when they closed with the opening track of Talon of the Hawk, "Au Revoir," one of my favorites by them. Sure, I totally love the new album, but there's nothing like hearing a classic from one of your favorite bands. Along with my gratitude, I could almost feel the shared smiles from the surrounding fans. We all knew this song, we all loved it, and we knew that's exactly why they closed with it. Music lovers are a whole different breed of passionate, and there's nothing better than going to see a band that feels that passion just as much, if not more than you do.