LIVE: The Front Bottoms’ Champagne Jam @ O2 Forum Kentish Town

By Katherine Allvey

While outside the streets fill with tinsel clad revellers, the Front Bottoms are throwing their own Christmas party. The final-ish night of their UK tour (they added an extra date after tonight’s show sold out) had been declared Champagne Jam: the British incarnation of one day festival curated by the New Jersey rock duo. The uniting force behind all the bands, and indeed the Front Bottoms’ live performance too, is a quirky, left field sensibility.

Girlband fling queer Fleetwood Mac vibes with a nineties Nottingham twist to generate emotional narrative honesty early on in the almost seven hour long show. Wilbur Soot, the Internet personality responsible for roughly thirty percent of ticket sales (judging by the high pitched live streaming his presence creates), is another early contender: imagine if Frank Turner met Damien Rice in Ikea and they felt inspired to write about the experience, and that’s the sound which drives more than a few of the crowd into a frenzy. Vundabar, however, prove to be an infinitely more interesting diversion on the road to the Front Bottoms’ set. Playful whoops abound for their eccentric, garage-tinged, cassette-deck nostalgia as their noughties quirk translates to Pixies snark. Brandon Hagen’s vocals pop like champagne corks into the crash mats of underground record shop nonchalance and picturesque bass.

“You know how it works right? Everyone’s gotta finish a bottle of champagne then we can get off the stage!” Brian Sella, vocalist from the Front Bottoms and all round party co-ordinator, yells and brandishes a bottle of champagne as he introduces the premise of Champagne Jam. True to his word, all members of the band would manage to finish their bottles before they go offstage before the end of the night. However, as it was a twenty-five song set, this would work out to be a sensible drinking speed. A minibar, complete with chairs, a barman and wandering patrons, is set up onstage, only adding to the sense of unreality that permeates their set. Sella’s narrative voice is so very separate from his speaking voice, and the stories he tells through his songs feel separate again, like urban legends or rumours from school which are repeated and repeated until they take on a life of their own. This quality makes their live sets immersive and cinematic, and you feel a personal connection through each tale as if it’s being told to you alone, a feat even more impressive considering the dedicated, wordperfect fans surrounding you. 

That bond is what powers their show. “This one’s about my dad,” Sella confesses to introduce ‘Father’, and we bounce as synthetic chimes pile up, crowdsurfing to his strummed emotional exorcism. We’re introduced to their past via ‘More Than It Hurts You’, which is ‘about where we’re from’ according to Sella, and their overwhelmingly DIY and, dare we say, folk-punk openness is a gateway to exposing their secrets and sharing them with us all. Torn between bouncing and filming, phones are stormtossed and waving wildly through the crowd though ‘Vacation Town’ as artificial trumpets rain down glittering hops. Sella almost drifts into spoken word for ‘Paris’: it’s more honest, more in character, as we focus on the drifting passage of years, while he switches to glittering auto tune amid sitar echoes. The little rituals and gestures of connection, be it a handmade doll of Sella which he proudly displays onstage, batman masks for ‘Batman’ or franticly waving during ‘Au Revoir’, are moving and shared between us and them. There’s a whole library of in-jokes which we all share. The songs in the set from latest album ‘You Are Who You Hang Out With’ like ‘Punching Bag’ are darker in tone, more simple and laden with moody reflection, and these are greeted with the same warmth as any of their peppier tunes: we love everything they offer unreservedly, and they treat us with identical joy. 

Of course, ‘Twin Mattress’ is the high-point of the show. Quiet thunder and a single spotlight introduce their most popular song. Champagne bottles finally emptied, Sella looks out over an anemone crowd waving as confetti canons blast silently-falling paper snow. His ode to the joy and pain of coming second is first in our hearts as he holds his guitar high by the neck, and lets it fall with a dull thud. It breaks in two pieces and he laughs, as enraptured by the moment as we are. It’s a fitting climax to a day of outsider tunes united by misfit experiences put to music, and we drift away as quietly as the disposable snowflakes, warmed by the glimpses we’ve had into the Front Bottoms’ world.

Kate Allvey