Standing on a lawn in Asbury Park more than two years ago, amid a stretch of fans that had no business being as large as it was, one could feel the scales of New Jersey rock favor tipping.
It was the last day of the Skate and Surf Festival 2015, an all-weekend event featuring dozens of internationally touring bands and headlined by local heroes The Gaslight Anthem, who to that point had been the state's most prominent modern rock outfit for the better part of a decade. But before Gaslight could take the stage, or before the sun could set, another Jersey group had already stolen the show. The Front Bottoms, originally of Woodcliff Lake, drew the festival's largest and most fervent crowd -- about 3,000 strong, who shrieked every word of its idiosyncratic folk-punk as if the day's end might erase the band forever. It seemed a real star-making moment for the indie group, like a miniature "Santana at Woodstock," only with less weed and more pork roll.
A month later, in June 2015, the bounding Bergen County outfit signed to Fueled By Ramen Records -- shepherds of global pop-rock hitmakers Paramore, Fall Out Boy and Twenty One Pilots -- and now, with two major-label albums under its belt plus performances at premier festivals Coachella, Austin City Limits and Panorama, any doubt surrounding the band's reach has been obliterated. Here's a non-political conversation stater for your Thanksgiving festivities: The Front Bottoms are, without question, New Jersey's hottest, right-now rock band and have been since Gaslight announced its hiatus in summer 2015. Playing to two or three-thousand fans a night is now the norm for singer Brian Sella and drummer Matt Uychich (the only two official Front Bottoms though they tour as a six-piece unit), who packed The Fillmore in Philadelphia Wednesday night for an electrifying pre-holiday party loaded with new tracks and deep cuts. The band's current national tour highlights "Going Grey," the LP released Oct. 13 that pulls the group away from its typical chugging acoustic riff procedure and instead floats '80s pop synth over its rock-leaning melodies. It's a move made by many previously guitar-heavy bands of late -- a style all but perfected by fellow Woodcliff Laker Jack Antonoff -- and in this case, Sella's pitch-corrected vocals expunge some of the band's patently imperfect lyrical banter and intimacy.
But in the live setting Wednesday the every-man frontman Sella, 29, felt like a close friend slipping in a few new stories while still revisiting all the best old ones. A little extra keyboard for newbies "Grand Finale" and "Vacation Town" didn't shatter the aesthetic; the all-ages crowd had learned all the new songs regardless. The Front Bottoms audience is somewhat unique in its composition: a union of bespectacled indie kids, tank-top bros and pop-punk followers donning their flannels and skinny jeans that mirrors the group's melding of quirks, hooks and petulant anthems. Fans bopped wildly to the favorites "Skeleton" and "Twin Size Mattress" and, like The Gaslight Anthem's aficionados, begged endlessly for obscure songs from the late-2000s vault. The Front Bottoms have released several EPs in between full-length albums and tout a back catalog that's unexpectedly thick considering the band only began to put out music in 2008.
Sella was affable and charismatic, a stage commander who ascends the band's wordy numbers about swimming pools, coffee cups, lust and drug addiction from introspective garble into legitimate underdog anthems. The stage show was bolstered by Jenn Fantaccione on trumpet and violin, and Roshane Karunaratne on keytar and melodica. The latest album moniker "Going Grey" is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, The Front Bottoms have now existed long enough to influence a new line of local acts -- namely the killer Montclair band Hodera we reviewed earlier this month -- but these are prime years for the band, which relocated just relocated its home base to Asbury Park -- how fitting that the hottest band in New Jersey would align itself within the state's most vibrant music scene. To that end, Erik Romero, a lead producer at the tastemaking Lakehouse Studio in town, which has forged many of the best local releases of the last few years, now plays bass for the band.
Content gathered & updated by the Bergen Review Media team.