LIVE: The Front Bottoms @ KOKO, London

By Ben Tipple

There was a moment of realisation on the way into London, one of those that jolts you out of contemplative daydreaming straight into a wide-eyed awakening. The Front Bottoms have sold out KOKO. It’s a huge leap from their days playing to intimate crowds at the Barfly, or even their sell-out performance at the comparably small Garage back in 2014. One thought plays on my mind from then until arriving to a substantial queue snaking around the side of the iconic venue: Just when did this happen?

Of course, it’s by no means undeserved. If anything, tonight is testament to the band’s relationship with their fans. In-between chants of “T-B-F”, encouraged by the same large white inflatable letters providing a backdrop to the stage, the remarkably youthful crowd sings back every lyric with precision. As their newer material is met by the loudest of voices, it appears their understated rise rode on the back of the aptly titled ‘Back On Top’.

The nineteen track setlist features seven from the record, joined by four each from ‘Talon Of The Hawk’ and their self-titled, plus a small number of older and non-album tracks. This is further evidence of the new record’s status. It sits at odds with the instant reaction to ‘Back On Top’, evidently the epitome of a slow burner. Most importantly the tracks really work in a live setting, even more so than on record.

As balloons rain from the ceiling to the joy of all, except one extremely stern security guard (who almost definitely enjoyed it really), it’s undeniable that The Front Bottoms have come a long way. A friend leans in half way through to set to inform of the time frontman Brian Sella undid a shirt button or two to the jubilation of teenage fans, being heralded a sex symbol a monumental far cry from The Front Bottoms of earlier days.

Somewhere between ‘The Talon Of The Hawk’ and ‘Back On Top’, The Front Bottoms have made a definitive step upwards. There’s been little fanfare to their steady climb, and one that makes a show such as this truly special. It doesn’t feel like the end result of an ever-churning hype machine, nor a flash in the pan success. The earlier jolting train realisation proves only a fragment of the truth. When did this happen? It’s been happening from the start. Tonight is merely the pinnacle of their career to date, until I’m on my way to Wembley Arena wondering the exact same thing.

It would be unfair to finish this without mentioning Kevin Devine’s cataclysmic opening performance, engulfing KOKO in a sea of atmospheric emotion. Barely has the venue celebrated a sound this good, crisp and clear as he cements his place as an underdog hero. If it was lost on any of the adoring The Front Bottoms fans pushing their way to the front of the already bulging crowd, they are wrong. End of.