Titus Andronicus at Maxwell's, 4/29/2011
At around 7:45 pm last night in Hoboken, New Jersey, three teenaged boys huddled in front of a large red door at the side of Maxwell’s Bar & Grill. Above the clatter of the kitchen staff’s clanging utensils and the head chef’s flirtatious banter with the young women walking by on the sidewalk, “Titus Andronicus Forever,” was blaring through the side door of the concert venue and spilling out on to the street, giving these eager fans a preview of the show to come hours later. As Titus Andronicus played through their sound check, two of the boys clawed at the edges of the side entrance, trying to get a better look, while one nervously stood watch. Moments later, Titus drummer Eric Harm stood at the front entrance of Maxwell’s just long enough to peak the boys’ attention before disappearing down Washington Street.
About an hour and a half later, the sidewalk was filled with Titus fans waiting to be let into the sold out show. At 9:30, the back room of Maxwell’s Bar & Grill was opened, and people began to funnel in. Maxwell’s is the perfect place to see a rock band: it’s small and dark, but charming and, all things considered, surprisingly clean. Brooklyn-based Dinowalrus, led by former Titus Andronicus touring member Peter Feigenbaum, kicked off the night with an interesting blend of psychedelic rock and electronica. Their set was energetic and engaging, if a little repetitive. Throughout Dinowalrus’s set, Feigenbaum proved himself to be a more than competent guitarist and performer, leaning into the crowd to deliver vocals and guitar solos. After playing a few songs, Feigenbaum asked the audience, “Who’s your favorite New Jersey band?” prompting a load and drunken communal shout: “Titus Andronicus!”
Before Titus took the stage to play, frontman Patrick Stickles announced that this particular concert would be a, “multi-media experience,” explaining that they had just finished up production on a new video for, “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future,” and that the band would be screening it before their set officially started. After explaining that the video is a celebration of New Jersey and it’s rich history, Stickles joked, “We’ll be back in a few minutes to play this song again.”
As promised, Titus Andronicus returned to the stage after the screening of, “No Future Part Three,” to play, “No Future Part Three.” The band launched into the song, and the crowd immediately began to dance and cheer. As “No Future Part Three,” reached it’s uproarious coda, two hundred voices in unison shouted, “You will always be a loser,” along with Stickles and co. Titus Andronicus maintained this kind of manic energy throughout the night as they barreled through fan favorites like, “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ,” and, the self-titled, “Titus Andronicus,” from 2008’s The Airing of Grievances.
In their most epic move of the night (and believe me, there were plenty of epic moves), Titus Andronicus played Monitor tracks, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” and, “A More Perfect Union,” continuously back to back in a 20 minute display of punk perfection. As Stickles spit out lines like, “I’m destroying everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen,” and, “Baby, we were born to die,” his passion for the music that he makes became both abundantly clear and undeniably infectious. Stickles’ voice is often compared to Connor Oberst’s of Bright Eyes, but, although the comparison is tempting, it is one that is ultimately unfair. Where a young Oberst shouts and whines through albums like Fevers and Mirrors or Lifted, Stickles is bolder and more confident. A good singer is able to carry a melody and hit notes, while a great singer is able to effectively transfer emotion to his audience and share with them his pain, joy, anger, etc.; Patrick Stickles is a great singer. Don’t get me wrong, Bright Eyes is great – Titus Andronicus is just better.
Another highlight of the night was, “To Old Friends and New,” one of Titus Andronicus’s few slow songs. As the band began to play the song, someone shouted, “Power ballad,” from the crowed. Stickles smiled and replied, “Exactly! Power ballad.” The song is gentle and effecting, but not without Titus Andronicus’s trademark rowdiness. On The Monitor, “To Old Friends and New,” benefits from lush production including vocal modulators and orchestral arrangements, but in a live setting all of that is stripped away, leaving only the raw emotion and execution of the five-piece band. It’s one of the strongest songs in their catalogue, and it was an asset to their performance. Titus ended their set with, “Four Score and Seven,” an obvious choice for a closing song given its shifting and building structure. The room again erupted with voices, as Stickles lead a drunken chorus singing, “You won’t be laughing so hard.”
After the concert, a group of four men stood outside Maxwell’s smoking cigarettes and discussing the show. Much like that of the teen-agers waiting outside earlier in the night, these men’s excitement was palpable while they talked over the concert that had ended just minutes ago. They tried to identify the band’s sound, one using the phrase, “updated Nirvana,” while the other argued for, “punk Bruce Springsteen,” but they never could reach a conclusion that satisfied all four of them. Which is unsurprising: Titus Andronicus’s sound is so complex, so rooted in tradition, but uniquely theirs, that it really is impossible to put them in a box. Only two albums and a handful of EP’s and singles into their career, Titus Andronicus has already become a force to reckon with, and not only within the indie punk community; in terms of talent and ambition, Titus Andronicus can hold their own against anyone.