Masses of sweat-laden youths hopped up on alcohol and the plight of the working class erupted into a “USA!” chant at Metro on Nov. 25. They weren’t welcoming campaigning politicians or proclaiming national pride, but rather asserting unabashed enthusiasm for a band named after a Shakespeare tragedy set in a former empire. New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus, currently a quintet (though the lineup is constantly changing), greeted their disciples bearded and raucous.
From the moment frontman Patrick Stickles opened his mouth, the audience visibly braced themselves as if stretching before a marathon – their eyes wild and determined, fists in the air and pumping in unison. The band came out swinging with material from its latest record, Local Business. Even though the album is barely a month old, their fans had already committed every word to memory, which is quite the feat considering Stickles’ trademark rambling poetry. “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus” infused the sounds of Irish punk with themes of personal unrest and drinking oneself into oblivion.
Titus Andronicus does an excellent job of blurring the line between band and crowd. The band’s live shows often have no barricade, the lighting is minimal, and there are no set lists taped to the stage. This instills a sense of community with listeners and imparts an organic and genuine feeling their performances, as if every spectator plays a part in the experience. New track “Still Life With Hot Deuce And Silver Platter” incited multiple stage divers – each euphorically making it to the band for a brief moment of glory before disappearing back into the swirling sea of bodies. Despite basic instrumentation (three guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer) and a lead singer prone to wandering in and out of key, the band’s onstage energy holds sway.
While this controlled chaos occasionally causes the band to appear disjointed and manic on record, it works very much in its favor live. Titus Andronicus lives in a perpetual state of patriotism-fueled rebellion. They temper political disillusionment with a nerdy love for American history (particularly Stickles’ infatuation with Abraham Lincoln). This is very evident on songs from their second album The Monitor, responsible for the best moments of the evening. Set highlights “Richard II,” “A More Perfect Union,” “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” and the epic “Four Score And Seven” left a cloud of perspiration over the rabid audience – clinging to every word as gospel, both genders screaming the proud refrain “I was born to die just like a man!”.
Stickles primarily kept to himself – occasionally muttering song introductions and quietly taking an audience request (a cover of Diarrhea Planet’s “Ghost With A Boner”). He was slightly more subdued than on the last tour, only occasionally leaning over the lip of the stage as if to tease his army with the prospect of a high five or mutual salute.
The band briefly reverted back to its beginnings as the set started to descend into the final act. “Titus Andronicus” – among the handful of songs from 2008’s The Airing of Grievances that made appearances – is rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form. Catchy, self-deprecating, pessimistic, and unsettling – it’s an anthem for apathy. Stickles wailed on his harmonica, quite possibly the most punk rock a blues harp has ever been, and angrily affirmed to the room, “Your life is over!” on repeat until every ounce of complacency vanished from the building.
A 14-minute “The Battle of Hampton Roads” wrapped up the night as guitar effects channeling the sound of bagpipes buoyed the band’s guttural parting plea of “Please don’t ever leave,” before exiting in a whirl of fading reverb and distortion. The stubborn crowd demanded “Four more years!” in hopes their candidates would return for an encore, to no avail. America will just have to wait.
– Gina Pantone-Urwin
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