No time for a full accounting of this show, so here's just a quick one.
Opening the night was buzzband Elvis Depressedly. The Carolina band was once the solo project of Mat Cothran (vocals/guitar) although partner Delaney Mills (keys) has become a mainstay in the band. Unfortunately, Mills' vocals were lost in the mix, and her keys simply blended into the quartet's full sound. Only the bassist seemed to really impact the band's short lo-fi indie pop. Low energy plagued the band throughout its 30-minute set, though Cathran's full-voiced final number was a welcome shot of excitement.
While I had some context for Elvis Depressedly, I had never heard of support act The Smith Street Band. The audience, however, were definitely excited for the Australian quartet lead by the vocals and guitar of Wil Wagner. Like Cothran before him, he's a round, bearded teddy bear of a frontman; I felt some immediate affinity. Despite suffering from some illness, Wagner was friendly, talkative, and genuinely flattered by the response the band garnered. Musically, Smith Street Band sits between the soaring alternative rock of Foo Fighters and the anthemic folk punk of Frank Turner. This means that every song was a fist-pumper that inspired the crowd to clap the rhythms, sing the lyrics, crowd surf, and, in the quiet moments, hold their lighters aloft. Although the band lacks any real edge that might have sucked me in, the audience in the sold-out club was definitely smitten.
Several years ago the (unfortunately named) Front Bottoms started getting a lot of press. NPR in particular seemed to be all about them, and out of curiosity I picked up the band's Rose EP (Bar None, 2014). Upon investigation I discovered that this was the same folk punk band I had seen opening a tiny show in Philadelphia in 2011. Things have certainly changed for the Front Bottoms in the last four years – not only has the band blossomed from a duo to a touring quartet, and has it smoothed its sound from its wordy anti-folk origins to a bright polished pop, but its stock has risen to the point that it was able to sell out the 1,000 capacity Granada in Lawrence, Kansas. It was there, in the photo pit and behind the barricade, that I stood next to the band's effusive fans, waiting for the headliner to take the stage.
Front Bottoms are lead by Brian Sella who defines the band with his acoustic guitar, emotive vocals, and detailed literary lyrics. His partner is drummer Mat Uychich, and this tour they are supported by bassist Tom Warren, and multi-instrumentalist Ciara O'Donnell who provides electric guitar, trumpet, and keys when called upon. Sella hadn't even reached this microphone at the center of the stage when the cries of "I love you!" rang out from the young audience. The entirety of the barricade was lined by girls with black Xs scrawled upon their hands – who knows how early they arrived to secure that prime vantage spot. As the set began I watched not only the band, but also its fans. The biggest fans, those that sang every song with extreme animation, were deeper in the audience. I watched one of them cry throughout the set. Others – first the guys, then later the women – made it to the front of the stage by surfing atop the crowd. In fact, there had to have been 30 different crowd surfers caught (literally) by the bouncers and pointed back into the crowd during the band's set. Was this a punk show?
Sure, Sella was a confident frontman who entertained the crowd without relying on any of the frontman tropes, and the band's custom stage lighting, inflatable "T" "F" and "B" backdrops, bubble machine, and Airdancer all provided constant stimulation, and the band's songs were hook laden with enormous sing-a-long highs, and the performances were certainly solid, but it was the crowd that held my attention throughout the set. With the possible (and notable) exception of The Mountain Goats, I've never seen a band inspire such fervor from its fans. Nor have I felt so distinctly separate from the other fans of a band that I enjoy. Like The Front Bottoms itself, there's a lot to unpack there.