When The Front Bottoms’ show took off Saturday night at Brooklyn Bowl, it wasn’t what any of us expected. Instead of lo-fi, pop-punk guitar riffs, the New Jersey four-piece opened with … Celine Dion?
That’s right. Before any of the band members actually got onstage, the lights dimmed to a vibrant red and “My Heart Will Go On” exploded over the loud speakers.
It. Was. Epic.
The Front Bottoms followed up their Titanic entrance by launching into a raucous, indie-pop-fueled punk set. Fans of The Weakerthans’ singer John K. Samson, Built to Spill’s jangly indie guitars and The Mountain Goats' bare-it-all lyrics should find a lot to love with The Front Bottoms, who bask in the sunny/sad nostalgia of '90s emo, pop-punk and alt-rock.
“We’re so excited to be here. This is our first time playing Vegas,” lead singer Brian Sella said before launching into opener “Skeleton.”
With 2015's Back on Top, the group toned down its "dance-punk" reputation for a more rock-forward sound. On older cuts like “Tattooed Tears,” that descriptor still made sense as drummer Mathew Uychich snatched the spotlight, employing his flittering high-hat and a disco-esque beat with nuanced pop-perfection. And that sunny, Atom and His Package-style synth-pop groove continued on songs like “The Beers,” thanks to keyboardist Ciaran O'Donnell, who also played guitar and trumpet throughout the set.
But Sella’s voice—which is easily comparable to Blink 182’s Tom DeLonge at times—was the MVP on Saturday night. His honest and pained storytelling is so full of angst and self-deprecating comic relief, it’s no wonder the Bottoms earned an invite to Coachella this year. Songs like “The Plan (F*ck Jobs)” were buffered by the singer’s nasally, imperfect vocals and acoustic guitar, while his stressed and desperate yelps on “West Virginia” echoed Thermals’ singer Hutch Harris’ signature talk-and-howl delivery.
Clearly, if anyone thought the band's signing to Fueled by Ramen would be a disaster, it’s proven to be the opposite. The band sounds more mature while evoking nostalgia better than ever. Songs about unrequited love, broken hearts and self destruction are still frequent themes, but it’s less gimmicky than on previous efforts. Live, the band puts that vulnerable, pissed-off energy into every song, while maintaining a unique sense of humor.
At the end of the set, The Front Bottoms kicked it up a notch, throwing a blow-up mattress and green alien into the mix. As fans crowd surfed on the inflatables, the four-piece closed with “Twin Size Mattress” while a grim reaper ran around onstage as if it were some sort of live Adult Swim special. Then came the biting lyrics: “With tears in my eyes, I begged you to stay/You said, 'Hey man, I love you but no f*cking way,'" Sella yelled. And therein lies the appeal of The Front Bottoms. Not only are they a band that can sing a song about having their collective hearts ripped out, they can make everyone have a good—make that great—time while doing it. It’s a bittersweet, bouncy sort of catharsis that makes the four-piece more than just another cry-in-your-cereal rock band. If their Brooklyn Bowl gig proved anything, it’s that The Front Bottoms aren’t just for emo kids. They’re for everybody.