By Aidan Connelly
What ever became of the frontman? For that matter, whatever became of the frontwoman? What became of the ever-cool, charismatic, alluring figure at the front of the stage—the role solidified in the seventies by singers like by Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury who gave nothing less than everything in putting on a show?
Since rock and roll’s birth, presentation has played a lead role in shaping a band or artist’s identity. Whether that’s through Elvis’ pelvic spasms or Iggy Pop’s animalistic charm, a good front-person captures and embodies the music’s pure, unadulterated magic. Without them, what’s left? In live performances, not much—without a frontperson, many instrumentalists may resort to standing still, and drummers are sometimes even hidden by their bandmates. But the frontperson—they’re the ones with real power.
So why then, in 2016, does every “best frontmen of all time” list only mention artists so old their music is practically public domain? You can blame this barren modern world of front-people on laid-back, too-cool indie rock; on the every waning influence of guitar music on pop culture; and even on eighties hair metal for making the frontperson look so silly.
But rather than stew in disappointment, let’s give credit where it’s due and take a moment to appreciate the frontpeople who are keeping the art alive.
When it comes to leading a band, Eric Nally from Foxy Shazam gets it. Sure, he’s better known for his feature in the latest Macklemore video than his work with Foxy Shazam, but god, does he make a good frontman. He’s manic, high-energy, and at his best, a true showman. Watch him eat lit cigarettes at the end of a show, like a goddamn garbage disposal.
Perhaps the greatest thing David Letterman did near the end of his time on The Late Show was host this near-perfect performance from Future Islands. The song is good, but lead singer Sam Herring’s performance makes this 100% worth watching. Listen to him howl through “Seasons (Waiting on You)” with his mesmerizing persona—half superhero, half fairytale monster—making a desperate plea for some romance.
Whether you can call Dan Deacon a frontman depends on the parameters of the term. Are standalone artists barred from being considered frontpeople? If there’s an exception to the rule, it’s Baltimore’s Dan Deacon, whose live act is one of the most exhilarating to watch, thanks entirely to Deacon’s full-on dedication. But rather than leading a band, Deacon leads his audiences through various trippy and silly routines. It’s as weird and fascinating as the music accompanying all of it. Here he is, performing on LA’s KCRW. There’s no crowd work in this clip, but Deacon’s Frankenstein-esque performance manages to keep things interesting.
If there’s a standalone frontman, there’s also standalone frontwomen. When it comes to embodying the spirit of your music, Annie Clark—better known by her stage name, St. Vincent—stands well above her contemporaries. She’ll package bursts of energy into stiff, robotic movements all while shredding on her custom guitar, or do the best job of leading Nirvana since they disbanded twenty years ago.
And in a modern band with two frontpeople,, Alison Mosshart of The Dead Weather may appear to be overshadowed by the audacious Jack White when the two play together. But this idea is decimated with Mosshart’s live performances. She writhes, sneers, and takes full hold of whatever stage she’s on in a way that reminds us that no matter how bland things may appear to be, the art of the frontperson never really went away. Thank god.