New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms descend on Manchester’s Ritz venue on their latest run of UK dates. Louder Than War’s Dave Beech was there.
Having seen various bands progress through Manchester’s venue circuit over the last few years, the announcement that New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms were scheduled to play The Ritz just ten months after their their last UK tour was met, at least personally, with some reservations.
Though iconic in its own right, it’s an unlikely host for what’s arguably one of the strongest pop-punk tours of the year. More suited to indie gigs and various club nights, those few punk gigs that the Ritz does put on are attended by punks somewhat older and far more grizzled than the majority of tonight’s crowd. That said, while leather jackets have been replaced with lumberjack shirts and Doc Martin’s swapped for Vans, the plaid contingent is out on en masse.
While a sold out Ritz is often an uncomfortably sweaty occasion, tonight feels less stifling by comparison. Once The Front Bottoms bound on to the stage and the opening chords of ‘Skeleton’ ring out however, it’s a whole other story. But first, after arriving slightly late and missing London’s Apologies, I Have None, there’s the matter of Cornish punks Gnarwolves to attend to.
Having caught the three piece several times over the past two years, their shows, always an intense experience, seem to have increased ten fold. Though more suited to the sweaty confines of basement bars or tiny festival tents, tonight the trio’s sound is bold and brash enough to suit the lofty venue. The devotion they inspire in their fans is evident; the likes of History is Bunk and Bottle to Bottle inciting furious circle pits in front of the stage while two new cuts slide effortlessly in to a set-list built around crowd pleasers. What a way to kickstart the evening.
Less heavy but no less heartfelt, the minute The Front Bottoms land the crowd erupts. The pockets of activity for Gnarwolves are absolved in to one singular, heaving mass as the band segue through old and new material with ease.
With a twenty-plus song set-list back-boned predominantly by last year’s Back on Top and fan-favourite Talon of the Hawk, it’s a near perfect collection of tracks that has an energetic yet amiable crowd either staring to the stage doe-eyed or screaming back every word. Such was the atmosphere that despite not entering a mosh-pit by choice in the last ten years, against better judgement all professionalism (as well as wallet, house keys etc) was abandoned about five tracks in in favour of entering what was arguably the politest moshpit ever.
It’s a testament both to the band, and to the kind of people who attend their shows that tonight should be as both as easy going and as intense as it is. It’s a bizarre dichotomy, one only understood once you experience the way Brian Sella’s quirky and seemingly impossibly personal lyrics resonate with every member of the crowd.
Such resonance is noticeable throughout their set, with every track played arguably someone’s favourite. It’s felt most heavily however as the band close at their main set. Beginning with its finger-picked intro, Twin Size Mattress is the track with which most people found The Front Bottoms and with tonight’s reaction it’s clear it still means a lot. Returning to the stage for a two song encore in the form of Twelve Feet Deep and Maps, it’s a fitting conclusion to a set that felt both cathartic and uplifting.
The Front Bottoms’ shows have always felt like safe spaces; somewhere you can go and enjoy yourself and not to worry about real life for a few hours. At a time where it feels like the world is increasingly going to shit, and even punk shows are blighted by sexual harassment, everyone needs a gig like this to lift their spirits and to feel part of something.
Dave Beech is a music writer based out of Manchester. He writes and edits for a number of different websites and links to his work can be found over at his blog, Life’s A Beech, as well as his Louder Than War author’s archive. He also tweets as @Dave__Beech.