Music: The Front Bottoms / Joy Formidable / Mobley at Kemba Live

Three bands shared a stage at Kemba Live! in Columbus with each being memorable in their own way.

“Cancel that one. It was pretty churchy.” Mobley, the first of two opening artists, responded to the audience’s attempt to participate in a sing-a-long. On the dimly-lit Kemba Live stage, in Columbus, Ohio it suddenly dawned on many people — this is all one guy?!

Mobley has released one album and three EPs, and even if a recording artist writes and performs as a solo artist, it is rare that they would perform on a full stage by themselves. Who is that on drums? It’s Mobley. Who is that on vocals? It’s Mobley. In the crowd? On the keys? Playing guitar? IT’S ONE GUY! Even in the early years of the band Shakey Graves as a one-man band, Alejandro Rose-Garcia was able to affix everything to himself. Mobley had a full drum kit on stage, electric guitar, keyboard, and microphone, and moved through them all throughout his performance.

It was just as overwhelmingly impressive aurally as it was visually. There was a good balance of synth, drums, and guitar. His live sound was more dramatic and his vocal harmonies were deeper than on his studio recordings. There’s a shortage of new electric-guitar-centric music. If this is the direction that rock is moving, we’re all in great hands. “Themesong” from his 2022 “Worstway” single was one of the hardest hitting that night.

He ended his set by saying, “I would love to meet you back there at the merch table. You don’t have to buy anything.” He certainly made some new fans from this show.

Drummer Matt Thomas, affectionately called Mr Thomas onstage came out kicking and shining a flashlight on the audience as The Joy Formidable took the stage. The first thing to notice about their stage performance is that Mr. Thomas’ drum kit is set up on stage left rather than in the back. Maybe it makes Matthew feel more included or is it to keep things more engaging between them all? In any event, it works. They are all three characters to enjoy on stage.
“Someone requested this song earlier tonight. I don’t remember who you are but you do, and this is for you,” guitarist Rhydian announces. The chemistry onstage is just as entertaining as their music. They seem like the best of friends who are comfortable enough low-key bagging on each other in front of an audience. Their playful discord works in harmony as much as their music and the moments in between the music are just as exciting as hearing the next song.

Aside from their equipment, their stage was stripped down, only bouncing paired complimentary colors off each other for each song. The whimsical banter and music ran shorter than their typical set to allow the headliner to perform.

“Sweet Caroline” was pumped through the venue’s sound system unnecessarily to get the crowd excited for the headliner. They were anxious already. A few light-filled balloons were being tossed around when the music stopped and The Front Bottoms took the stage. Categorized as what seems to be an oxymoron, the folk-punk band had a crowd full of kids hopping and bobbing for more than 20 songs straight.

By the end of the third song, “Love at First Sight,” the band extended the ending for less than a minute while vocalist Brian Sella ran off stage to quickly change his pants to be able to move about the stage better. This was exactly the kind of endearing quirkiness the audience would come to embrace during the duo (touring four-piece) The Front Bottoms’ performance.

An hour after doors opened, the line for the venue wrapped around the building into the parking lot. This young crowd may have arrived late, but they sang along perfectly in time to every song at the top of their lungs and bounced around the barricade in unison. The band released bubbles, optimistic and sometimes heart-wrenching lyrics to the nearly sold-out crowd. The fans in the first several rows were filled with some who wanted to dance and some who wanted to catch the entire performance on their phone. The regular flow of crowd surfers also made it difficult for these budding videographers to capture their favorite songs.

The stage was simple and well designed with whimsical circles of lighting strategically placed on the stage below the simplistic yet iconic logo for The Front Bottoms. The vocals and sounds from the band were simpler than one might expect from the depth of the lyrics. Brian’s lyrics come from a person who has had to keep their head up from the struggles of good intentions, especially in relationships and learning how to become a grown-up. Both the Joy Formidable and the Front Bottoms would make appearances the following day at Riot Fest in Chicago, but neither held back on their performance tonight.

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