When The Front Bottoms revealed the US dates for the Back On Top support tour (aptly called Back On Tour), it was a no-brainer to purchase tickets. Then when the band added one last stop on the tour in our city, we knew we had to buy tickets for that show too. I’ve never been to a hometown TFB show, but I’ve been to three shows in Rhode Island now and they have all been like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Seeing them in Providence (even at a venue we don’t necessarily love) was a must.
Despite being back-to-back, the two shows really only had a few things in common: the band line-up, the overall positive energy in the crowd, and the simple fact that The Front Bottoms, no matter where they play, will always be The Best Band In The World.
Sunday night at the Royale in Boston boasted a mostly older crowd, which made for a fairly mellow pit experience. I can honestly say I’ve never had a “mellow pit experience” at a TFB show, even with mellow openers. A friend of ours told us that when she saw the tour in Connecticut, the first opener, Elvis Depressedly, didn’t do much to move the crowd. She wasn’t wrong — though the band boasted a decent lead vocalist, okay lyrics, and an overall instrumental cohesiveness, the stage presence simply wasn’t what I expected from the first opener at a TFB show. I don’t want to be rude, but both times I saw Elvis Depressedly, I was bored. I wanted them to finish so that the show could move forward. Elvis Depressedly played a slow, somber set. I didn’t feel motivated to even look at their merch table after the show, let alone buy anything or seek out their music independently. I was a little disappointed by that, to be honest, but the second opener totally made up for it.
The Smith Street Band brought so much energy to the Royale on Sunday night. We first saw them open for Frank Turner two years ago, and though I honestly haven’t listened to them a whole lot during that time span, now I want to listen to their music and see them perform again and again. It’s obvious that the members of The Smith Street Band are genuinely enjoying every single moment on stage, which is a really infectious kind of positivity. The crowd Sunday night ate it up; aside from a tiny section in the middle of the crowd and my partner and friend, it seemed that most people didn’t know any of their music. But by the end of their set, the room was absolutely buzzing, not only with excitement to see The Front Bottoms, but also with excitement over the killer set The Smith Street Band had just played. After the show, I picked up a copy of one of their vinyl records at the merch table.
When The Front Bottoms took the stage, the crowd got into it immediately, though to my surprise I didn’t immediately feel like I was about to die in the pit. Sunday night was my fifth time seeing TFB live and the four times prior to that, I left every show with bruises and a ringing headache; TFB fans go hard, which you wouldn’t expect from listening to their recorded music. Seeing the band live is a totally different beast, though. The band didn’t open with “Skeleton”, which surprised me a little — I’ve gotten so used to hearing the opening chords of that song blast through the room as the band’s introduction that I was thrown off when they played another song, instead. But “Skeleton” was second, and the energy just built and built and built all night. Despite the fact that the tour was to support Back On Top, TFB played a ton of songs from past records, including many of my favorites. It was a killer set list, and the encore featured a semi-acoustic rendition of “Bathtub”, followed by “12 Feet Deep” and “Twin Size Mattress”, which finished the show out perfectly.
We didn’t stay after the show Sunday night (other than to buy merch), but I did beg Ciaran for a copy of the set list before the band left the stage. It doesn’t list any of the encore songs, which makes me wonder if the band improvised the closing numbers at every show during the tour. TFB have always been really spontaneous during live shows in my experience, taking audience requests and extending sets to include old favorites that they might not have planned on playing before audience members started screaming them out. It was amazing to hear Brian Sella jump into “Bathtub” by himself with an acoustic guitar before the rest of the band joined in during the encore; honestly, it brought so much intensity into the performance and so enhanced the feedback from the audience that it elevated the whole show, which at that point felt like quite a feat. It was already a fucking fantastic set.
Monday night at Lupo’s featured a crowd that was significantly wilder. The Smith Street Band had a much larger crowd of supporters, most of them centered in the pit, but even those in the room who apparently hadn’t heard them before were shoving and jumping and screaming along. Once again, the positivity exuding from the band was completely contagious. It’s damn near impossible not to have a good time seeing The Smith Street Band. The fact that this show was the last one on the tour added a lot of fun, as well: the bands all played together at various points during each set and big, sweeping thanks were made to the bands, the crew, and the fans. It was a very cool, very fun vibe. It was clear that these bands were bummed to be leaving the tour, but pumped to play one last show, not to mention relieved to be going home. I always love going to the last-night-of-tour-shows, because there’s something extra, extra special about them.
When the set break happened between The Smith Street Band and The Front Bottoms, a flood of bodies made its way into the pit. The band was preceded on stage by the big, inflatable TFB that usually graces their stages. The letters were missing Sunday night, which felt weird, but seeing them Monday set the whole crowd to screaming and taking pictures before the band even walked on stage. Like I said earlier, seeing The Front Bottoms play in Rhode Island is an unparalleled experience. The band made the wise decision to open the show with “Rhode Island”, setting the night off with a huge bang. The rest of the set list only had some similarities to the one from Sunday night, which was amazing, because it made for a completely different experience overall. The crowd at Lupo’s did not settle at any point during the set; crowd-surfers and intense pushing were par for the course. We stayed off the barricade and out of the pit for this show because we expected that; as fun as it can be to be deep in that kind of pit, sometimes it’s more fun to be off to the side but still close to the stage. At a venue like Lupo’s, which is small, that’s easy to accomplish.
Again, TFB played a ton of old songs in addition to tracks off of Back On Top. Between the two nights, I heard almost every single one of my favorite songs. The only glaring exception was “Santa Monica”, which I haven’t heard live since the first time we saw TFB in 2013. (Someday, they will play that song again and it will be amazing. Someday. I refuse to give up hope.) The addition of “Swimming Pool” halfway through the set made up for the absence of “Bathtub” in the encore. Unlike Sunday night, the band closed with just two songs in the encore (“12 Feet Deep” again and “Twin Size Mattress”, of course). During the final song, everyone from Elvis Depressedly and The Smith Street Band hit the stage to play along. There was a massive feeling of, “TONIGHT IS THE LAST NIGHT OF TOUR, SO LET’S FUCKING PARTY”, which nicely counterbalanced the obvious emotions Sella felt when he talked about the first time he and Mat Uychich went to a show at Lupo’s years ago, and how they talked about how amazing it would be to play the venue. They’ve since played it twice, and the second time they headlined.
The Front Bottoms have come a hell of a long way in the two years that I’ve been actively listening to them and going to their shows. It’s such an incredible thing to see, though there’s some bitter-sweetness to not having as much access to the band before and after shows. We waited after the concert Monday night to attempt to talk to the guys, but there were so many people there and after Mat came out and was sort of bombarded with questions and requests for hugs, we opted to go home. I’m so stoked that they’ve signed to Fueled By Ramen and are getting more exposure, because they work so hard and they completely deserve the attention. It’s just weird to watch your favorite band start to blow up.
I have no idea when The Front Bottoms will be on tour again, but I can’t wait to see them a seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth time. I can’t imagine a world wherein I don’t buy tickets to see this band live as many times as I possibly can. Take my money, TFB. Let me buy tickets to your shows! Each one is firmly etched in my memory as one of the best nights of my life.