At first, spending Valentine’s Day listening to songs about unrequited love and break-ups might not exactly sound like the ideal way to celebrate the holiday. Yet nonetheless, Belfast’s Mandela Hall is packed out with fans of The Front Bottoms unique brand of emo folk punk excited for a night where they do just that.
Brick + Mortar open the gig and instantly bring with them a high sense of fun and energy. Their set is about the visual as much as it is the music. As two hamburgers make out on the projected screen, Brandon Asraf explains that they are filming tonight using a go pro crowned with a foam marijuana leaf. As they near the end of opening track “Keep This Place Beautiful”, they have managed to get the entire venue jumping up and down. While the set was notable for its use of costumes and props including but not limited to a bishops hat, cape and a pair of giant, sparkly blue hands, lyrically Asraf covered some big issues. Songs about America’s drug culture and the stigma surrounding mental health just about hold their message amidst a sea of dancing and confetti.
We leave behind the world of psychedelic colour and nipple tassles as Smith Street Band take to the stage. Without any introduction the full band launch into “Death To The Lads” from their highly regarded More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me album which was released last year. The Australian punk band shift our focus from colourful graphics back to live performance without dispensing with any of the energy which has been growing since the night begun.
As lead singer Wil Wagner begins to play “It Kills Me To Have To Be Alive” the focus shifts to its powerful lyrics which do not need any explanation or embellishment, “I will never learn to just shut my mouth, And bury things our parents’ way”. Wagner wishes the crowd a happy valentines day before joking, “it’s a Front Bottoms show, everyone is broken hearted”. The crowd are not so broken hearted though that they can’t sing along with Smith Street Band’s own unconventional love song “Birthdays”.
Really, there is little need for Brian Sella’s short introduction as before he can even finish saying “We are The Front Bottoms, thanks for watching” the crowd erupt with cheer and applause.
The Front Bottoms begin the show in the same way they began 2017 album Going Grey by launching into opening track “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)”. While the band may be touring in support of this album, their set is a solid mixture of songs old and new.
At points during fan favourites “Skeleton” and “West Virginia”, Sella is almost drowned out as the crowd sing his infectiously hooky lyrics back at him. He quips, “You guys have the most beautiful singing voices…I lie a lot but that is true”. “Peace Sign” sees the crowd show more than just their singing skills as they collectively use synchronised hand gestures to act out the chorus; “The next time that she sees him, It’ll be peace sign, middle finger”.
An impromptu cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” ends almost as soon as it has begun as Sella breaks down in laughter as one half of the audience belt the all to familiar chorus out while the others playfully boo at the song choice.
Things improve when Sella introduces what he marks as the “request part of the show”. All at once the audience shout their favourite song titles meaning no one on stage can actually make out any one voice. While Sella may apologise that he “couldn’t understand any of you”, he definitely made a great choice with “Jim Bogart” followed up with “Twin Size Mattress”.
The encore features another brief cover, this time it is the better received opening chords of Blink-182’s “Dammit” which morphs into “Twelve Feet Deep”.
Requests spark up again only this time, some ingenious fans hold their phones in the air for the band to read their choices. After initially praising the idea, Sella soon realises how many different songs people want to hear. He asks off stage, “Is there a hard curfew?” and the three song encore he promised is extended in an effort to please as many fans as possible.
Tonight has been marked with high energy, a real sense of euphoric fun and great music from a band who want nothing more than to put on an enjoyable show for their fans.
While the lyrics may be at times bittersweet, Sella has a real knack for making even these songs uplifting. The mood is celebratory and it turns out that the band know exactly how Valentine’s day should be done.