Author: Owen Bacskai
The main act portion of the Front Bottoms and Manchester Orchestra show at the Sylvee last Wednesday began somewhat unremarkably. After a fantastic, smoldering set from singer/songwriter Brother Bird and an intermission full of Clash and Pixies tunes, the house lights dimmed. Without any theatrical introduction, The Front Bottoms’ Brian Sella led the group onto the stage. He offered the lively audience a brief greeting before plucking out the first notes of the band’s “West Virginia.”
This marked the start of a discography-spanning performance from the New Jersey emo-tinged indie rockers. Though they put their full-band sound (which has expanded over the years to include a trumpeter/violinist, synths, and a powerful two-drummer rhythm section) on display with a number of songs off of their most recent albums, their set provided a heavy-handed dose of the classics, indulging the writhing mass of fans with electrifying renditions of “Au Revoir,” “The Beers,” and plenty more fan favorites.
It was a set that turned the cavernous Sylvee into a friend’s garage. The audience became almost as much a part of the show as the seven-piece, screaming Sella’s disillusioned lyrics back at him with a joyous, cathartic passion. In all, the Front Bottoms’ rousing set proved to be a perfect storm: heavy enough to mosh and head bang, melodic enough to dance, and intimate enough to sing along—a perfect encapsulation of what makes the Front Bottoms such a compelling band in the first place.
After they left the stage (following a roaring encore which featured their landmark tune “Twin-Sized Mattress”), the atmosphere changed. The crowd thinned as many of the younger concertgoers—presumably there for the youthful catharsis of the Front Bottoms—left. When the house lights dimmed again, and Manchester Orchestra took the stage, the fun, rowdy energy of the last set evaporated; the mood grew palpably more serious and somber, befitting the headliner’s soaring, mature sound and the emotive storytelling of frontman Andy Hull.
Once onstage, Manchester Orchestra didn’t just stand there and play their songs. They wove their intricate, dynamic discography into a single, beautifully continuous song with heart-stopping precision. In fact, throughout the set, Hull rarely paused to address the crowd (aside from a greeting, a joke about how that greeting was all he felt was necessary to say, and a “thank you all for coming out tonight,” he said nothing). Manchester Orchestra’s set had been masterfully crafted to speak for itself, and it did just that.
The entire performance played out like a captivating storyline: it began with a swelling, harmonious introduction, it peaked with the band’s trademark heavy guitars and searing riffs, and it ended rather hauntingly, as Hull abandoned the microphone to belt the last lines of “The Silence” to a muted, spellbound crowd.
In all, it was a remarkable night at Madison’s expansive new venue. Not only did the buzzing crowd witness two bands striking a masterful balance between precise musicality and passionate performance, but they became a part of the show itself: their voices filled out each anthemic chorus, and their sense of emotion was lashed to the swelling sounds.