Emo’s staying power was reaffirmed as The Front Bottoms and Manchester Orchestra played a co-headlining bill at The Bomb Factory on Wednesday night. In order to understand why, it is important to contextualize the time and place of both bands.
Manchester Orchestra formed during emo’s commercial peak in 2004, which has since been a distant memory. In the 2010s, many young fans of emo’s third wave matured past the genre’s perceived juvenility and gravitated toward bands like Joyce Manor and Modern Baseball, who catapulted from DIY spaces to mid-sized venues in a matter of just five years. One of fourth-wave emo’s biggest trailblazers is The Front Bottoms, whose style embodies the same nexus of indie rock and emo as Manchester Orchestra while throwing in folk-punk elements one would hear from Jeffrey Lewis.
In the year of our Lord 2018, Manchester Orchestra aren’t exactly moving the needle. They haven’t peaked either, but their style is essentially just a relic from the '00s that was polite enough not to overstay its welcome during emo’s third wave.
Ten years later, previous emo torchbearers have read the writing on the wall, and in recent years, have brought on the road younger bands that are moving the genre forward. Circa Survive is currently touring with La Dispute. Saves the Day just announced a run with support from Remo Drive. Two years ago, You Blew It! had the esteemed privilege of touring with Taking Back Sunday. This trend has been noticeable for the last three years or so, but in an unprecedented move, not only did The Front Bottoms co-headline with Manchester Orchestra, but they even closed out the night.
This wasn’t because Manchester Orchestra needed people to stick around. On the contrary, once the band wrapped up their set, about 20 percent of the audience thinned out. In reflection as to why this arrangement was made, two reasons come to mind: One, Manchester Orchestra have a much older audience, therefore they need to go to bed at a more reasonable hour, and two, Manchester Orchestra’s set was much less stimulating than that of The Front Bottoms.
Once The Front Bottoms exited the stage, it was easy to forget that Manchester Orchestra even played in the first place. Manchester Orchestra seemed calculated in their stage presence, and the fact that emo has made numerous strides since the band’s inception takes away the luster that might have been present in seeing them a decade ago. The Front Bottoms, on the other hand, actively interacted with the audience, taking requests and engaging in stage banter specifically tailored to Dallas (they even have a song called “Lone Star” that they play only in Texas).
The stage setup was also fascinating – during changeover, they rolled onto the stage a bar with four beers on tap, some bottles of liquor, Solo Cups and four barstools. A touring bartender (a phrase that has probably never been said in the English language) was serving drinks to a handful of lucky audience members that the band let on stage, and they drank while the band played. There were two drum kits stage left – one bass drum had a head design of the Cheers logo, and the other one had a head design that said “TFB” in that same font. Scattered throughout the stage were rustic light bulbs attached to mic stands. Next to the stack of guitar amps stage right was a floor tom with an attached cowbell that multi-instrumentalist Jenn Fantaccione used throughout the set.
Fantaccione would also play trumpet and violin during certain cuts. Touring keyboardist Roshane Karunaratne played a KORG Kronos that lay perpendicular to an acoustic piano. At times, he would play both instruments simultaneously. Despite such a labyrinthine backline situation with so many moving parts, vocalist and guitarist Brian Sella remained the center of attention.
From the moment the band took the stage at 10 p.m. on the dot, unbridled screaming commenced. They kicked off the set with “Au Revoir (Adios),” a track from the band’s 2013 full-length Talon of the Hawk.
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“Before I say au revoir, au revoir,” the audience shouted. “You probably don’t even know what that means.” (“Au revoir” means “goodbye.”)
The band also played the track “Peace Sign” off their 2017 LP Going Grey. As Sella belted the line, “Peace sign, middle finger,” the crowd chanted along, most of whom made the namesake gestures with their hands.
Around 11 p.m., the band returned for an encore, and closed their highly energetic set with their 2011 song “Father,” which makes quite a first impression with the opening line, “I have this dream that I am hitting my dad with a baseball bat, and he is screaming and crying for help.” After walking off stage to an enthusiastic ovation, the crowd left the venue feeling the same emptiness 42 million Americans felt when Sam Malone said his final, “Sorry, we’re closed” on the last episode of Cheers.
The youthful enthusiasm from both the band and the audience was a refreshing reminder that emo is a living, breathing force that is here to stay, and despite 40 percent of the audience being below drinking age, The Front Bottoms still took on the form of Sam Malone and gave them an outlet to take a break from all their worries. And what an escape that was.