All words: Robert Winship
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
By now, Titus Andronicus have laid a clear sonic path for themselves. The occasionally-revolving cast of New Jersey twenty-somethings are a reliable resource for the aggressive misanthropia and rallying nihilism that I believed to be dead long before I could step foot into a club. It’s not just that the spirit of punk lives on in this band (Sacred Bones’ catalogue is punk and post-hardcore ethos incarnate). What stands out about Titus is a mix of time, exposure and their earnest struggle with man’s place in the world. No ‘post-’ title does the band justice.
Local Business has sifted through the channels of criticism, and some reactions may file down the listeners understanding of the band’s direct angst. Their third album has traded a some of the raw energy of The Airing of Grievances and ambition of The Monitor and taken, for lack of a better term, a more polished approach. With one step in the direction of professionalism, Titus have come back to the stages on which they’ve gathered fans in order to profess their hard rock and roll vision of heart, mind and body blows. At Rock & Roll Hotel, some changes were for the better, while some former glory was left untouched. The lead-up to their set was not to be missed.
First opener, True Head played with all the confidence of punk revival. The Bad Brains and Rites of Spring t-shirts adorning the motley crew were statements of purpose, guideposts for your understanding. I’ll assume for DC’s sake that most people here have the old catalogues on lock so, unfortunately, this band didn’t have much to offer beyond the motions they went through.
All but one song was performed as a five piece, with a new bassist. They had energy and were clearly thrilled to be onstage and there is something tangible and noteworthy about that. Ultimately, True Head were better as a four piece. For the most part the number of instruments outweighed the spirit of four-on-the floor punch into a muddled mess of drive and meager execution. They were more purposeful with their instruments, even hit their mark with one man per.
Ceremony passed out candy in a white ghost bucket as they marched onstage. Singer Ross Farrar, clad in one of the band’s own t-shirts, walked along the edge of the audience where I received Whoppers. It was a little disarming. Ross quickly dropped the bucket and shed the t-shirt as the band set off on a blistering punk journey.
Bassist Andy Nelson played right in my face nearly the entire show. By the last stretch I hit my head on his instrument. I looked up and he smirked as if to say, “about time.” I need to go back and see just what the fuck Ceremony was doing with Bloc Party only months ago. Such a staggering juxtaposition is akin to the Cloud Nothing’s with Silversun Pickups, but that’s just recent memory. Ceremony have been around as long as Titus, with both bands forming in 2005.
Ceremony’s lineup however, has not changed. Their violent, pummeling, sound was as tight as the individual playing. As great as Titus was, not much was lacking from Ceremony. The rumbling bass and gutsy guitars pushed the music right up to your nose. Ceremony even did this town a little justice with a spirited cover of “Minor Threat”. Ceremony is a tight band and completely together in their Black Flag-like show. As a live show that I’d never seen, they outdid Titus and lifted the night far above average.
Here’s the thing: Titus Andronicus makes a difficult case for simply sitting back and critiquing their show. At least four times in the night, I was caught up in the fist-pumping, anthem-shouting rock and roll around me. Yes, “you will always be a loser” and indeed, “your life is over, your life is over” and even more true, “It’s alright, the way that you live.” For any profound truth, written into the lengthy lyrics, almost every part of their live performance is highlighted and remembered by the simple, repeatable lines.
The biggest difference between this show and their previous shows was the absence of Amy Klein. Amy carried the most chemistry with Patrick onstage. Not having the female response in “To Old Friends And New” hurt the song and solidified a sort of boys-club mentality in the band. But the heavy-hitters, beginning with “In a Big City” and continuing with “Titus Andronicus,” “A More Perfect Union” and “Four Score and Seven” weren’t diminished. Titus Andronicus shook the small venue with all the might of New Jersey.
With each passing album, it’ll be more and more difficult for Titus to recapture the crowds with new material. Local Business just couldn’t capture the bold and bitter outlook of The Monitor. But hearing such precision and band-wide unity of sound on the new tracks meant that this time around, the band is trying new things and Wednesday’s show proved that Titus Andronicus is clearly more than the leadership of one man, but the product of a group. It’s punk.
In a Big City
Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus
My Time Outside the Womb
Joset of Nazareth’s Blues
My Eating Disorder
No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future
To Old Friends And New
(I Am the) Electric Man
Do You Love Me? (The Contours cover)
The Battle of Hampton Roads
A More Perfect Union
Titus Andronicus Forever
Four Score And Seven (Second Half)
SOME KID TRYING TO DO HIS HOMEWORK DURING THE SHOW BEFORE BEER GOT SPILT ALL OVER IT: