The Front Bottoms / The Hard Aches
The Small Ballroom, Newcastle 28/01/2017
Review: Matt Doria | Gallery: Britt Andrews
It’s not often we get to watch history in the making, but when The Hard Aches took to their dim, sweaty stage, we couldn’t help but feel that what we were witnessing was something truly magical. Hailing from an oft-forgotten Adelaide punk scene, the duo revelled in short, catchy pit anthems laden with the type of gargantuan choruses that haven’t captivated the mainstream since Kisschasy dropped Hymns For The Nonbeliever in 2007. And if there’s any band that can replicate – or hell, even surpass – that success, it’s these lads. Their thirty-minute set flashed by in a haze of schooners, sweat and sweet, sweet tunes: highlights came in “I Get Like This” and “Glad That You’re Gone”, frontman Ben David blending energy and emotion with every piercing hook and soul-melting melody. Judging by the crowd’s response to work-in-progress jam “Brain Drain” (see: sheer infatuation), it’s looking like 2017 will be a huge year for The Hard Aches.
It’s also going to be a huge year for indie-punk powerhouse The Front Bottoms, with both a new instalment in the Grandma EP series and a full-length album in the pipeline. Before buckling down on those, however, they’re taking 2015’s divisive (we loved it) Back On Top on one gloriously epic victory lap across Australia – and of course, BLUNT was smushed right up at the barrier in Newcastle to soak it all in. Except, with the overabundance of shoey-obsessed man-children bulking up the crowd, we soaked in a lot more stale beer than we expected to. Keep it in your tins, mates!
Jovially dodging the shoey chants and riffing on as much crowd banter as they could, the Jersey foursome powered through their headline set without a hiccup. 75 minutes felt like a shred over 20, and for every pang our feet were hit with as the night wore on, there was a booming chorus ready to swoop us right the fuck back off them again. Cuts from Back On Top were met with amicable reception – especially so for the infectiously groovy “Ginger” and downright anthemic “HELP” – but it was chunks of their 2013 breakthrough, Talon Of The Hawk, that spawned the night’s loudest cheers and biggest pits. Even if the venue was somewhat undersold, hearing the entire room scream back the simple refrain on “Au Revoir” or emotional dialogue on “Twin Sized Mattress” felt enchanting. Plenty of love was shown for the self-titled LP, too, the floor bursting to life when cuts like “Maps” and “The Beers” were busted out.
As for the band themselves, The Front Bottoms were a goddamn anomaly. The last time they were here (supporting The Smith Street Band in 2014), it was kind of hit or miss – people didn’t know who they were, their sets were too short to showcase the full spread of their talents, and the ambitious theatres felt a little too intimidating for their small-time story-driven sadjams. Tonight, however, the unit were unstoppable: frontman Brian Sella could’ve sneezed directly into the microphone and still earned himself a riotous applause. His ability to fixate an audience with equal parts homeliness and charisma was simply mesmerising, and juggling dopey emo vocals with bright acoustic guitar, his talent equally so. Ciaran O’Donnell caught the rest of the spotlight, switching between his guitar, keys, a trumpet and tambourine often a few times per song; he’s the one-man-band that takes this four-man-band above and beyond.
Just as Newcastle would have it, the show did, in fact, end with Sella slamming a shoey alongside one lucky punter – much to Sella’s apprehension towards the concept (one might even say he looked… Uncomfortable). The set at large was pillared on crowd interaction, too – the band took song requests from giddy hecklers, personalised every line of banter and engaged spiritedly in whatever sloppy, drunken half-conversations were shot their way. It was one of those rare sets where we never felt like we were standing idle and just watching a performance – we were a part of it.
It took almost four years for The Front Bottoms to return to Australia, but after tonight, we’re sure it won’t be as long a wait for their next trek our way.