CONCERT REVIEW: The Front Bottoms at Mission Ballroom 10/11/21

By Henry Hodde

The Front Bottoms’ performance at Mission Ballroom last Monday was a reminder that punk rock and roll is not dead. The genre is alive and well alright. It may not look the same as the days in which The Clash and The Ramones reigned supreme, nor does it sound like Metallica, or even Green Day. Nevertheless, fans of noise first and foremost ought not despair. 

The Front Bottoms at Mission Ballroom

The Front Bottoms are not a new band. Guitarist Brain Sella and childhood buddy Mathew Uychich began to write music together in 2007, adding Uychich’s brother Brian to complete the original lineup. Sella and Mathew Uychich still form the heart of the New Jersey band, but on Thursday, the founding duo were complemented by Erik Kase Romero and Natalie Newbold. The next hour and a half quickly morphed into 90 minutes of exhilaration, energy, experimentation, happiness, and noise. The concert was easily the best I’d attended live in recent memory.  While this distinction doesn’t really carry significant weight considering that I grew up in rural Middlebury, VT and spent my first year of college living through a pandemic, I have a feeling that it will take a while for another show to match this celebration of sound. 

“You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” set the tone for the concert, with a strong drumset backing a series of playful guitar riffs and a set of conversational based lyrics that embody any good Front Bottoms song. “West Virginia” brought hard hitting head bangs, “Jerk” crowd surfing and a sense of vulnerability through Sella’s words. Then we were into the classics. “Twin Size Mattress.” “Montgomery Forever.” “Peach.” The songs that stole my heart- each one building the excitement, the energy, and the joy on the faces of those that populated the crowd. 

Sella belts out “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)”

It’s the randomness, the human in the lyrics. I remember sitting in my room at boarding school, trying to write an English essay when Sella’s voice first reached my ears from my roommate’s Iphone 8 speaker. I was struck by the abstract, the volatility, the repetition. Lyrics like “this is for the lions living in the wiry frames of my friends bodies,” “I avoid using traditional techniques,” and “it’s snowing right now I wish it was summer” all define The Front Bottoms. They might seem pointless, unimportant, childish even. But it’s exactly this approach that makes the band relatable. It’s what makes the band identifiable. It makes them relevant. As a 21 year old kid, I don’t necessarily need wisdom in my music, nor do I desire it. No. I want friends. I want to feel someone else speaking about a sense of chaos and uncertainty. Who else gets the occasional feeling that they just need to voice their aimless and spontaneous thoughts?

“Au Revoir (Adios)” closed the show. Fitting right? One of my best childhood friends used to hate when I played that song for him. “There’s no point,” he’d exclaim. “The entire song has like 3 distinct lyrics!”  I always thought he was missing the point. “That’s not what The Front Bottoms are about,” I’d tell him. I wouldn’t say I listen to The Front Bottoms to learn how to live my life for the next 10 years. No. If I wanted that, I’d turn to those podcasts from Yale professors that my mother loves to forward my way. Maybe I just want to laugh, to bounce up and down for an hour and a half, and most importantly, to listen to noise. And I think there’s some value in that too.

Concert Review: Courtney Barnett at The Ogden Theater on 9/28

Taken by Eric de Redelijkheid on Flikr

This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to see the first night of Courtney Barnett’s North American tour promoting her most recent album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, released this May. My sister and I navigated our way through a crowd of IPA-drinking and Blundstone-wearing 30-something-year-old fans and eventually made our way to the front of Denver’s Ogden Theater. I’ve been lucky enough to see Courtney twice before – once with Kurt Vile promoting their joint album Lotta Sea Lice at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, and another time at Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta – but this was the most intimate venue I’d seen her play.

From the moment she stepped on the stage, no one could take their eyes off of her. I don’t play guitar myself, so I’m not typically apt at telling a guitar virtuoso apart from a player who’s just okay, but after watching Courtney’s intricate fretting all over the guitar neck, I realized what exceptional talent she had. She’s been praised countless times for her lyricism, but her abilities on the guitar are seriously underrated.

If you’re already familiar with Courtney Barnett, you’d know that she’s been lauded for her witty attention to detail and ability to create memorable songs out of mundane events ever since she started making music in 2014. For instance, some of her best-known songs are about an asthma attack, house hunting, and eating ramen noodles. However, some of her songs are a much more personal and vulnerable account of life through her eyes. The audience lost it when she sung one of her most well-known songs, “Pedestrian at Best,” and everyone yelled with her as she screamed “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you! / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you!” Her self-deprecating remark is an ironic statement about not wanting to be fame that inevitably comes along with being a musical phenomenon.

Similarly, one of the songs on her new album is titled “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence” and here she is also especially critical about herself (“I never feel as stupid as when I’m around you / And indecision rots / Like a bag of last week’s meat”). However, she still comes across as uninhibited – never caring how her audience will receive her perceived self-consciousness. Even though that songs ends with her claiming “I don’t know, I don’t know anything,” and repeats it literally twelve times, it’s obvious that one thing she does know is herself.

At one point during the show, she introduced one of her older songs “Are You Looking After Yourself?” by telling us she wrote it after a long phone call with her parents. The song begins with a line that was spoken by her parents: “Are you working / hard my darling? / We’re so worried,” but she counters their criticism with: “I don’t want to no 9 to 5 / Telling me that I’m alive.” Later in the song, her parents suggest “You should start some / sort of trust fund / just in case you fail.” I imagine that being a musician, especially one who writes so personally like Courtney does, can be terrifying since she has to constantly rely on others’ validation and positive reception in order to keep going. However, Courtney replies with a sarcastic response and sings “I don’t know what I was thinking / I should get a job… / should get married / have some babies / watch the evening news.” The thought that Courtney, a woman of such obvious talent, would quit making art and instead get a job is ridiculous.

Her humble attitude helps explain why 1,600 of us in the sold-out Ogden Theater were so entranced by Courtney for her entire two-hour long set; she’s so devoted to her work and in love with what she is doing that we couldn’t help but marvel at all of the energy she put in to every note and every word. Thanks, Courtney, for blowing us all away once again, and I hope this won’t be the last time I see you!