Day 126: Summer’s For Music: The Front Bottoms in Philadelphia

by Tom Noonan

The story of The Front Bottoms’ sold out Philly show is something I heard over and over again while hovering around the bar: “The kids are always right.”

At the tender age of 21, with my ability to legally purchase and consume an alcoholic beverage, I found myself to be one of the older and more enviable members of the crowd at World Café Live on Thursday night.  Hanging back with a handful of parents and aging true believers, my expectations shot through the roof when Brian Sella and company came out to do their own sound check.  There was no time to fuck around; this was a punk rock show.

I’m not sure if it was the slight buzz or sense of relief from escaping the music-as-corporate-blockbuster summer heating up outside, but as soon as The Front Bottoms launched into the feasting hook of ‘Skeleton’, I forgot all of my surroundings and started belting along with the pre-pubescent crowd.  Walk along like a skeleton last night/Confused and alone.  This was music that couldn’t fit in a cell phone app.

The Front Bottoms, a band named brashly after an English slang term for a female sex organ, are tentatively nestled in the very non-existent, very hyphenated acoustic-dance-indie-folk-punk scene.  They construct songs like jet streams of consciousness, building around simple melodies (which can mean two horn notes played with the all the skill of a junior high band member) to eventually form intricate confessionals.  They make songs you’ve never heard before.

For the entire set, the young Jersey natives moved effortlessly between their two label-produced albums, letting the schizophrenic aimlessness of self-titled The Front Bottoms dilute the fleshed out sound of their more recent Talon of the Hawk.  Even with this dichotomy, it was all coherent, a set built to showcase the songwriting prowess of their breakout star, Brian Sella.

Delivering all his songs with a Tom Delonge-standard snark, Sella is able to distill the complicated and more often strange thoughts that develop on the fringes of our consciousness, then goes to great lengths to bring it all back to love.  One particularly stunning track, ‘Father’, unsubtly marries dreams of patricide to a failed relationship, employing shifting perspectives to fit everything in.  These are what songs sound like in a Martin McDonagh movie.  Last night, Sella introduced “Father” with an unflattering story of his dad, making it clear that none of what he’s doing is an act.  We kind of already knew that, but it was cool to catch a glimpse of the kid behind the snark.

Back at the bar, with Sella leading rapturous sing-along after sing-along to a fist-pumping, entropic crowd, I found myself rolling over that same maxim, “The kids are always right.”  During their closer, ‘Twin Sized Mattress’, the band’s one truly transcendent song, the reason for Sella’s magnetism finally clicked.  He’s a paradox, a writer that is both troubling and comforting, abstract and focused, ugly and gorgeous.  He writes lyrics the way people think Fiona Apple writes lyrics, leaving only blood on the page.  Watching him all but screaming his lyrics into the sweaty mass of overboiled driver’s permits, I knew there was something to the maxim.  I knew that, at least this time, the kids were most definitely right.