This Friday evening I found myself at Toad’s Place, meandering through the dim, sticky-floored venue among crowds of too-cool college kids and madly excited teenagers. We were all here for presumably the same reason: tonight, indie legends The Front Bottoms were playing a sold out show, along with Australian pub rock The Smith Street Band and the fuzzy, dreamy power-pop quartet that is Elvis Depressedly.
The first band to hit the stage was Elvis Depressedly. As a long time fan familiar with their hazy, far-out sounds and surreal, sometimes dark lyrics, I wasn’t quite sure how they were going to mesh with the more upbeat acts of the night. As soon as they started to play, however, my fears were washed away by the warm buzz of Mat Cothran’s chords and the soft synth chimes produced by Delaney Mills. The accompanying bass and drums provided a rhythmic backing to the noise. Producing a full sound, Cothran’s voice lay lyrics such as “Someday never came so i keep waiting/I will go to sleep still believing” (from “N.M.S.S.”) over a crowd of both fans and new listeners. I’ve seen them live before, but never in front of an audience that wasn’t incredibly familiar with their work; in this setting, Elvis D really put on a performance that was welcoming to new ears, peppered with classics such as “Pepsi/Coke Suicide” and “Inside You” for fans in the audience. It was the best show I’ve seen them put on, carefully balancing the setlist between old tunes and tracks off their latest release New Alhambra.
Next up was The Smith Street Band, another quartet, known for packing a serious punch on the more pop punk side of the scene. Will Wagner, frontman, was a powerhouse, confidently placing himself of this new audience and giving it his all. Opening with “It’s Alright, I Understand” they gained momentum fast, their energy pumping through the speakers over a crowd eager to soak it in. Chris Cowburn, the drummer, beat away on his kit, providing the backbone for the set, with guitarist Lee Hartney and bassist Michael Fitzgerald playing atop. “We’re living on impulse and the times we don’t get caught/We’re living off each other despite the suicide attempts/Car accidents and all these filthy fucking cigarettes” Wagner sang his heart out, full of emotion and movement. Their set was tight, all members in sync, sometimes even in their jumping up and down on stage. Smith Street definitely knew how to please a crowd, telling jokes and catering to Front Bottoms’ fan base with their relatable lyrics and catchy melodies (“We should be climbing chainlink fences with backpacks, nowhere to go/And am I satisfied or did I just come to terms with the hunger/With me all my life, made me live harder when I was younger?”)
Finally The Front Bottoms, and the pushing of teenage girls happy the show wasn’t on a school night and teenage boys looking to start a pit became stronger. The moment Brian Sella graced the stage with his presence, my ears rang from the shrieks in a symphony around me. Opening with “Au Revoir (Adios)”, there were already people trying to crowd surf. Having seen TFB in both small sweaty basements and at Toad’s Place the year prior, I had never seen a crowd like this. There wasn’t as much pushing/moshing as usual…in fact, the crowd was pretty tame.
Though I’m not a fan of their new album Back On Top, my inner 14 year old was thrilled when they played iconic “Flashlight”, the first song off of their first album ever. You can find the lyrics plastered over the internet; “Please fall asleep so I can take pictures of you and hang them in my room/so when I wake up feel like yeah everything’s alright./You are still here, you are still happy, you are still smiling and laughing/you are still the only thing and everything I need in my life.” Mathew Uychich, drummer and Brian’s best friend, didn’t hold back and was likely to break his sticks every song (but somehow managed not to.) When they played their newer songs, there were of course die hards in the crowd that knew the words, but the volume increase when they played older jams was undeniable. Old Front Bottoms songs are amazing, regardless of Sella’s overuse of the word “uncomfortable”. In both the performance and recorded versions of their new songs such as “Cough It Out” and “Motorcycle”, it feels like they’re simply lacking passion. The lyricism has gone downhill, and as someone whose growing up was influenced by TFB, that’s disappointing.
Their set both reminded me of why I loved them, but also that I’ve grown up and moved on. And that’s okay.
“Just wanted to let you know, before I say au revoir.”
I can’t wait to hear the adds
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – January 1981 (Volume 12, Number 8)
I don’t believe in tomorrows
the night was quite a wild ride
I wish Cliff had beat Stormzy -who I admire but not here
we are all now sold on “Anti-Hero”
A horrorcore anthemic track with creepy vocals and abrasive guitars
they don’t quite show growth they do show
The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 12-2-22 – 12-8-22, Yemi Alade’s “African Baddie” Reviewed
One of the best albums of the year
Want to join me in supporting a good cause?
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – December 1980 (Volume 12, Number 7)
Boy Howdy! did Susan Whitall put together a solid team of writers