This Summer I’ve really been digging the New Jersey band The Front Bottoms (TFB). Their lyrics are smart, emotional, and colloquial. Frontman and lyricist, Brian Sella, is a fantastic storyteller in his songs, just listen to tracks like “Lone Star” and “Handcuffs.” Masculinity, relationships, and growing up are popular themes in their songs. Sella’s quick to note that not all of the lyrics are autobiographical and that many are taken from friends’ stories.
Beyond TFB being a great listening and sing along experience, I hear they’re great live. I’ve yet to see them in concert, but I’ve culled YouTube, and collected my favorite selection of live shows and acoustic performances. Between Sella’s habit of drinking too much and his penchant for changing lyrics, and the musical talents of Mat (drums), Tom (bass, guitar), and Ciaran (guitar, keyboard, trumpet, accordion, cow bell, etc cetera) their performances are entertaining on multiple levels.
NPR Tiny Desk Concert
I love NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. So many great musicians presenting their songs and sound differently than they usually do.
This was one of the first TFB performances I watched and it’s one I often send to friends who express an interest in them. It’s probably one of their tamer and better performances. Everyone is at their best and it just rules. Plus, their set covers some of their most popular tracks from their sophomore release, Talon of the Hawk, which is a real standout album.
“Lipstick Covered Magnet” on Audiotree Live
Their whole Audiotree Live performance is worth watching, if only for the progressive removal of shirts. This was the final song in their set, hence everyone’s shirtlessness. But that’s not what sells this performance for me. It’s Sella’s almost unnoticed lyric addition that’s slid in with a smirk (around the 0:45 mark):
All you want is sleep
And all you’ll get is head
Typically, that verse ends with “All you want is sleep,” but Sella is known for sliding in more profanities, vulgarities, and drug references when performing live.
I also love this performance for Sella’s rough vocals. He’s never been known for having an amazing voice a la Brendon Urie or Patrick Stump, but his tired voice only adds more character to the band’s sound. The versatility in their performances allows their music to constantly be shown in a new light; the songs can live many lives through changes in lyrics, instruments, and Sella’s vocals. It never gets old.
“12 Feet Deep” on Exclaim! TV
This is another performance that showcases the beauty of Sella’s tired voice. Paired with Ciaran’s trumpet, slight lyric changes (“I am so punk” becomes “I am so fucked”) and a room with amazing acoustics, “12 Feet Deep” takes on an entirely different tone. I’ve had this video on repeat countless times as Sella’s delivery in this performance makes the unrequited love in this song so much more palpable.
The Front Bottoms at The Fest 11
Many TFB performances feel like they’re on the cusp of going horribly wrong. Many times, that seems partially due to Sella drinking too much, as in this case. At one point, Sella even announced he feels like he might puke.
Yet, his drunkenness gives a new intensity to their sound and the lyric changes that spring from his lips are beautiful and hilarious (Most notably in “Mountain,” when “I bought a big bag of fireworks / in Pennsylvania” is changed to “I bought weed / a big bag in Gainesville, Florida”).
I also think Mat and Drew’s performances at this show only add to how great this is. Their energy pairs fantastically with Sella’s aggressive, almost desperate delivery.
“Help” and “Au Revoir” on FM 94/9 at Coachella 2016
Sella doesn’t usually do solo acoustic sets. Most performances include at least one other band member. And to see him on stage, playing live, all by himself is a delightful, endearing thing. I love seeing frontman stand on their own, their frontman-ness stripped without the rest of their band in tow. Sometimes it’s a sink or swim, trail-by-fire cringe fest, but other times it’s incredible and only underscores their talent.
I’m not sure where this performance lands on the spectrum between cringey and incredible, but Sella’s bumbling, cool uncle type personality (as fans noted in the YouTube comments for this video) makes is just better. He even does some knee centric dance move at one point. Sella doesn’t have it quite together, but it’s still enjoyable to watch.
Brian Sella Solo Show Performing New Song
I love nothing more than traversing the depths of YouTube and digging up little gems like this. In a recent, solo performance, Sella plays a new song. Not only is the addition of harmonic to his sound a fantastic albeit unexpected treat, but once again, his bumbling, cool uncle self makes his performance just that more enjoyable.
As you can see, my favorite TFB performances are rarely the ones where they are at their best. It’s not that I enjoy watching people fail (I really don’t. When I watched The Office, I used to walk out of the room whenever Michael Scott did something particularly cringey). My love for these less than polished performances is because it feels more human and closer to who they are as people. So often bands seem larger than life, talented and mind blowing beyond comprehension. But music isn’t about feeling less than the performer; it’s about community and connecting. These musicians are average people too (everyone poops, after all), and our ability to relate to the lyrics they pen should make us feel less alone, like we belong. And I think it’s encouraging to find a performance and the music moving despite little goofs along the way. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.