all words: Shona Fenner
all photos: Sally Simms
Attention Single Ladies! If you went out on Friday night trying to snag yourself a fella then you went to the wrong place. The Rock and Roll Hotel continues to be a venue nearly entirely full of bachelors (with good taste in music). After some light heckling with the girls at the door I walked in to this dude-fest to see the opening band, Last Tide, doing some pretty skillful guitar work and getting the whole room to at least nod along to each song.
It didn’t start to really fill up until after that first set and I found myself standing next to some boys that had traveled from Boston to come see Free Energy and then the Virgin Free Fest on Saturday. They had brought down a hundred purple glow sticks for the occasion and were very generous with them. By the time Free Energy came on this group of Boston Bros were beside themselves, dancing and singing along. I have never seen a group of men so enthusiastically and whole-heartedly enjoying an indie power pop band. It was a beautiful thing, especially when they made their own cowbell out of a PBR can and glow sticks.
Free Energy is chock full of good vibes. They aren’t exactly my usual taste in music but I found it impossible not to groove along with my gifted glow stick and be smiling the whole time. The feelings were good all around and by the end of the set Free Energy had converted a lot of the skeptical looking concertgoers. We all went from standing around staring at each other to having the sort of environment where you could dance like nobody’s watching. And people definitely did, that little group of Boston boys as the best example. They even had two of the band members from Titus Andronicus on stage for some single song cameos where it started to feel sort of like a house show with all our friendly neighborhood band members getting involved.
This band is exactly what you want when looking for youthful summer anthems. They are bouncy, uncomplicated, and just refreshingly fun. Their poppy vocals give great hooks and are complimented with drum beats and loud guitar that make it obvious why Free Energy is so easily compared to their arena rock musical influences. Free Energy has the feel of being the Cheap Trick for our generation’s SXSW, deep V wearing set of kids. They are sort of reminiscent of the characteristically high school daze portrayed in hundreds of young adult novels. I’ll say it again, they are simple and fun and simply FUN.
By the time midnight rolled around everyone was packed shoulder to shoulder and were very sweatily and patiently anticipating Titus Andronicus for another slam dance fest. Their unusual name comes from the title of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, a hilariously bloody and violent tragedy. But the literary references don’t end there. Maybe I am well-read enough (or pretentious enough) to be predisposed to love any band that references Albert Camus’, The Stranger, Abraham Lincoln, Shakespeare, and Renaissance art. But its not just high minded literary influences either. Titus Andronicus gets enough musical influence and lyric paraphrasing from Bruce Springsteen to birth another New Jersey anthem and they are damn proud of it. Besides that their lead singer, Patrick, sports a thick dark beard that makes the conceptual leap to an album inspired by the War Between the States believable. All these links make them seem much more complicated than the band before them.
These Jersey boys, and girl, gave us a fantastic and rowdy rock show worthy of all the buzz and wait time while they set up. During one of their songs with a sing-a-long chorus of “you will always be a loser” I was astonished to turn around and see most people in the crowd behind me mouthing the words with no anger or malice at all, just the honest release of seeing one of their favorite bands perform. Maybe we were in a room full of “losers” but maybe not. There was the usual pit of boozed-up sweaty boys falling and knocking into each other and that didn’t stop for Titus’s anti-homophobia anthem or even some of the slower ballads. All these guys were just simply happy to be dripping sweat, pounding their fists in the air, and fighting for the best spot to see the band rock out on stage as well.
Their set continued for over an hour and towards the end there was more on stage banter and a slight rest from all the energetic bar rock anthems. All us DC-ers were congratulated and complimented on being from the city that birthed punk and instead of pulling out some old hardcore song they gave the microphone to the guitarist/electric violinist, Amy, and she screamed Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl. I find it very important to say that my little riot grrrl heart nearly stopped beating and her short performance immediately became the highlight of the night for me.
Being a straight up indie rock band, Titus Andronicus pulls out some impressive dueling guitars and just the right amount of folk influence to be charmingly similar to Against Me!, an old favorite of mine. There is also the lyric intensity that would challenge Conor Oberst without getting too close to the dreaded label of “emo” because they are just too foul mouthed (ex. “I am covered in urine and excrement, but I’m alive”).
By the end of their set, and the show, everybody was exhausted. I left to walk home with the majority of the contents of some stranger’s beer down my back, beautifully sweaty hair, scuffed up sneakers, and a big old smile on my face. Good times had by all!