Review by Kirsty Hillyer with Photography by Lee Allen

I’m going to apologise in advance as I’m totally in danger of dominating this review talking about tonight’s opener instead of giving props to The Smith Street Band and The Front Bottoms; disclaimer in check it’s time to do just that.

I went into tonight’s show with no expectations of Brick and Mortar. Hailing from New Jersey, this duo have brought along a third sampler pushing entertainer to join them on stage. Musically they blend samples that nod to 90’s British Dance acts such as The Prodigy and KLF with indie reggae. However, the music is not what’s going to make this band stand apart from the rest.

brick and mortar supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (1 of 7)

They are the perfect party starters. I spent their set flitting between eyes wide, mouth agape expressions of WTF to giddy laughter. Drummer John Dacon regularly leaves his kit to coach the crowd in their clapping, singing as loud as he can to raise the energy of the room. Lead singer Brandon Asraf brings a positivity to proceedings as he shares the bands message to destigmatise mental health issues. Together they embody the spirit of an 80s WWF wrestling tag team.

Accompanied by animations of political commentary featuring Trump and Hilary, before segueing into gender morphing hyper coloured people and creepy clowns, they consider all aspects of their performance.

brick and mortar supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (5 of 7)

brick and mortar supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (6 of 7)

Touring member Richie Brown is the dourest faced button pusher that looks jaded as he rolls through the motions of their comedic performance enhancements. From the giant sequinned hands, he dons to conduct the crowd and spank Brandon during ‘Terrible Things’, to the pill bottle costume for ‘One Little Pill’, he is a performer over this shtick but committed to delivering with full aplomb. Things get weirder as he treats us to nipple tassel burlesque choreography for ‘Locked in a Cage’.

Finishing the set with ‘Train’ they cement themselves as the comedic counter part of Twenty-One Pilots. Needless to say, there was a lot more to behold than what I’ve shared but if you want to see a spectacle then sign up now before someone gives them this generation’s Rocky Horror to write.

brick and mortar supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (7 of 7)

You may wonder how The Smith Street Band could possibly follow such an opener but these hard-rocking happy Australians are the perfect middleman before the headliner. Opening with the crowd pleaser ‘Death to the Lads’ off last year’s offering ‘More Scared of You Than You Are of Me’ was the start of a set dominated by this latest album. As frontman Will Wagner shouts the album’s title line, his impassioned delivery is driven through with shaky emotionally charged hand gestures.

Smith Street bandr supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (10 of 11)

Smith Street are a band filled with gratitude and excitement to be doing what they love but you can’t help but wonder if what they love is having a detrimental effect on Will’s health. Whilst this is only the second time seeing them, the lyrics are delivered with a breathlessness that blurs the enunciation of words so clear on the records. Regardless of this concern every song is delivered with such rousing enthusiasm; those that are singing along can’t help but infect their neighbouring Front Bottom fans who hadn’t heard of them before to get on the Smith Street wagon.

Smith Street bandr supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (2 of 11)

Smith Street bandr supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (3 of 11)

Teasing the crowd with the opening riffs of ‘Enter Sandman’ they promptly 360 into one of their own; older tracks like ‘Sigourney Weaver’ always raises a smile and honestly there is nothing not to enjoy about Smith Street. As they finish the set with ‘Throw Me in the River’, drawing the set to a slow close, the raspberry ripple lighting across Will’s face highlights the rawness in the despair of the lyrics. This being their first time in Birmingham their sure to return after tonight’s reception.

Smith Street bandr supprting Front bottoms Lee Allen (6 of 11)

Death to the Lads
Surrey Dive
Sigourney Weaver
Young Drunk
Throw Me in the River

The playlist between bands yo-yo’s from Counting Crows, Postal Service, GnR, to 80s inspired Paramore and the crowd rousing sing-a-long of the only hit by Fountains of Wayne, my embarrassment for Birmingham knows no bounds in this moment.

Thankfully The Front Bottoms soon take the stage in a misty orange glow surrounded by wafts of incense. Opening with ‘You used to say (Holy Fuck)’ – the opener from last year’s ‘Going Grey’, this slow build see the crowd swearing at the top of their lungs. As ‘Going Grey’ is the current album they’re touring its extended cover acts as the backdrop; presenting the crowd with a giant penis just behind front man Brian Sella’s shoulder.

Front bottoms Lee Allen (12 of 13)

They reward the crowd with a mix of the new and the old, devoting only third of the set to songs off ‘going Grey’ and delivering crowd pleasers ‘The Plan (Fuck Jobs)’, ‘Au Revoir – Adios’ and ‘Skeleton’ off their breakthrough album ‘Talon of the Hawk’ for a party bounce along standard for one of their shows, empathised further by contrasting lightening-esque flashes through their warm, golden sun lighting.

The Front Bottoms tick all the boxes and yet somehow, I can’t quite get the numbers to add up; maybe because the energy and earnestness garnered from their live performance translates to a flatness on record.

Front bottoms Lee Allen (1 of 13)

Front bottoms Lee Allen (6 of 13)

Their hard work in consistently touring the UK has seen them transcend through the rooms at the Institute, always bringing a barrage of talent each time. Tonight, is the most confident and polished I’ve ever seen them, from the staging through to their stage presence; on a line-up in which they could have easily been outshined and outplayed by gimmicks and hard rocking.

Closing with their most popular song ‘Twin Sized Matters’ their devoted fans leave the show energised yet spent.

Front bottoms Lee Allen (5 of 13)

You used to say (Holy Fuck)
Vacation Town
Tattooed Tears
West Virginia
Everyone But You
The Plan (Fuck Jobs)’
Cough it Out
Peace Sign
Au Revoir-Adios
The Beers
Jim Bogart
Grand Finale
Plastic Flowers
Twin Sized Matters

Front bottoms Lee Allen (4 of 13)

See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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