The Front Bottoms‘ career has consistently been hit-and-miss: at their best they are one of the best pop rock bands going, at their worst they sound like any other modern day emo band, albeit one with a lot more acoustic guitars. Tonight’s set, drawing fairly evenly from the three LPs they’ve released since signing to Bar/None (and more recently Fueled By Ramen) reflects this, but sadly feels more like a miss overall.
Arguably, the biggest contributor to this is not the fault of the band themselves, but the mixing. Tonight, the acoustic guitar and vocals dominate everything else, which helps make frontman Brian Sella’s wryly literal lyrics shine through with more clarity than expected for a punk gig, but also robs the band of their punch. Most of the songs sound far less full or energetic as they should- which is a dangerous situation for The Front Bottoms to be in, as it often leaves them sounding more whiny than absorbing. The loudness of Sella’s vocals doesn’t help, either, as despite the strength of his lyrics, his singing is hardly distinct from most other pop punk bands. Their downcast numbers manage to carry just fine, but it’s the gleeful, youthful energy in tracks like ‘West Virginia’ that really brings the band to life, and which tonight is absent. Their often messy indie-rock inspired tracks recall the sound of The Libertines – plenty of haphazard guitar playing, at least, but not enough of the pure, unbridled passion.
During their encore, Sella mentions playing ‘Mountain’ on top of Bargate Castle the first time they visited Southampton, before playing ‘Maps’ instead. In some ways this summarises the whole experience: The Front Bottoms border on indie pop greatness, but mainly just sound like any emo band with an acoustic guitar.
Words by Joe Gilbertson
Photos by Emily Young