LIVE: The Front Bottoms / The Smith Street Band / Brick + Mortar @ The Waterfront, Norwich

By Yasmin Brown

The Front Bottoms embarked on their European tour accompanied by 2 bands that emphasises exactly why support acts are so often referred to as “warm up” acts.

With it being their first trip to the UK, American duo Brick + Mortar were previously unknown to the majority of the crowd. Yet within seconds of taking to the stage, anyone that turned up early enough to catch their set was fully engaged, unquestioningly following commands to intermittently yell, “Hey!” and to crouch and jump as the chorus kicked in. With a number of interesting costume changes, rehearsed speeches, and interesting props (such as nipple tassels and a balloon filled with feel good messages), Brick + Mortar had the entire audience off their feet, and the cold air that awaited us outside the small Norwich venue was left wholly forgotten.

While The Smith Street Band might hail from across the world in Australia, they are no strangers to Europe, having played festivals and toured with The Front Bottoms on our side of the world a number of times before. The band may have recently replaced founding drummer Chris Cowburn, but their punk driven, heartfelt tunes still had long time fans jumping and screaming the words enthusiastically, as the rest of the crowd danced and bobbed in awe of the seemingly unlimited energy front man Wil Wagner put into every note.

As the support acts were so expertly chosen, the crowd was more than ready for what The Front Bottoms were about to bring to the stage for the final performance of the evening. The lights dimmed and a roar erupted out of the darkness as the band took to the stage to the intro of ‘You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)’. It was obvious from this first song that TFB are significantly more impressive live than they are on record. That’s not to say that their recorded tracks are by any means bad, more that their live shows highlight the depth and the layers of the music that might be missed in MP3 format.

Accompanied by a multi-talented touring trumpeter and violinist, elements that – on record – appear to be electronically produced, show themselves to be created with real instruments. Brian Sella’s acoustic guitar is, for the most part, masked by synths on their latest record ‘Going Grey’, but it is a highlight of the live show, and cements the ‘folk’ label the band is so often given. These live additions immediately convey the talent that lies in each member on the tiny stage, and there isn’t a single moment throughout the 19 song setlist during which this talent falters.

It’s clear looking around that fans of The Front Bottoms are far from casual, as raised arms move desperately and in perfect time with the lyrics, unrelenting from the very first moments right up until closing song ‘Ocean’, with every word being screamed right back at the band. Often it is clear which songs fans prefer to hear live, as their energy may wane for a song or 2, only to be revived as a unanimous favourite kicks off. With The Front Bottoms though, the same levels of cheering ensued for their newer tracks such as ‘Vacation Town’ as they did for their most famous song ‘Twin Sized Mattress’ which only highlights the band’s ability to attract a passionate fanbase and to continue to impress with every album they release.

Crowd participation reached its peak midway through the set during the band’s latest single, ‘Peace Sign’, the chorus of which encourages both band members and attendees to make a “peach sign, middle finger” in the air; a cathartic outlet for anyone wishing to say ‘so long’ to someone negative they may be holding onto from their past. This moment seemed to encompass all that the band stands for, as it combines a certain bitterness and pain with their ongoing mission to spread positivity.

This positivity shone on the crowd like a light in the form of Brian Sella’s unwavering grin, and resonated from the front to the back of the venue throughout the entire night. The Front Bottoms may have one of the most innocently crude band names in mainstream music today, but they radiate sincerity, gratitude and earnestness through both their music and their performance, well deserving of their loyal existing fanbase and ever increasing popularity.