Last Night: Titus Andronicus, Soft Envoronmental Collapse, Bizarro Kids at Sons of Hermann Hall

Titus Andronicus, Soft Envirtonmental Collapse, Bizarro Kids
Sons of Hermann Hall
August 31, 2010

Better than: sitting through Shakespeare, even at his goriest.

Titus Andronicus may have been the headliners at Sons of Hermann Hall last night, but even that band admitted while on stage last night that the true heroes of the evening were the local openers in Bizarro Kids.

No, not because the Bizarro Kids's three-song, instrumental offering to the small crowd of early arrivers was especially gripping or anything like that. Rather, because, without Bizarro Kids' gear--and the band's willingness to share that gear--this show could been a disaster.

Before Titus Andronicus' set even began, Bizarro Kids had already made its contribution: The touring act's keyboard player had forgotten his stand back in Little Rock, where it had played the night before. So, on this night, he was using Bizarro Kids' stand.

And then, just one song in to Titus' 90-minute offering, with all of its amps turned up to the proverbial 11, the backing guitarist blew her amp. Again, it was Bizarro Kids, and their gear, that came to the rescue.

Good thing, too: Titus Andronicus is a band that likes to play its music loud and furiously, combining elements of early '90s alt-rock (read: Dinosaur Jr.'s salacious riffs), rousing, intelligent bar rock (read: The Hold Steady's clever wordplay and pension for penning Springsteen-indebted bar-room singalongs) and vital, visceral punk (both the drummer and frontman Patrick Stickles wore T-shirts bearing Jodie Foster's Army logo). And though the band looked a little road-worn halfway through its current, second tour in support of its spring-released sophomore effort, The Monitor, the five-piece capably maintained a high-energy throughout the night.

The crowd, in turn, reciprocated, emphatically singing along to Titus' memorable, the-whole-world's-against-us on-record refrains and choruses ("You will always be a loser, you will always be a loser," "The enemy is everywhere, the enemy is everywhere" and "Your life is over, your life is over" serve as fine standouts and examples from this night).

But while the band's energy translated into a visually stimulating affair, and while Stickles' between-song banter revealed the singer to be just as intelligent and witty a speaker as he is a songwriter, there was a disconnect with the sound of the room.

Very little of the band's instruments were amplified through the stage's outward-facing speakers, a direct result of the band's emphasis of having their monitors turned all the way up. As a result, attendees within the first 15 feet of the stage were treated to an auditory onslaught--but those any farther back than that instead heard a rather washed-out sound coming from the stage.

Given the sheer length of the performance, during which the band hardly paused to take a breath, the sound concern seemed a petty, if somewhat disappointing, one. And for the band's biggest fans, who very quick to gain position before the stage at the set's start, it was a non-factor.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias
: I'm a big, big Titus Andronicus fan. The band's debut, The Airing of Grievances, was one of my favorite release in recent years, only to be topped with the release of this year's The Monitor. The sound issues probably were more evident to me because of this high familiarity.

By The Way: Ishi side project Soft Environmental Collapse, the second opener from the night, sounds, in many ways, very similar to Ishi's more acoustic-heavy offerings. That's where the comparisons end, though. While sonically pleasing, SEC has a long way to go before matching Ishi's intense on-stage displays.

Random Note: Bizarro Kids has a song called "Pete Freedman Is a Fucking Douchebag," which they closed their set with on this night--but not before announcing that they were changing the song title to "Pete Freedman Is a Pretty Decent Guy and He's Probably Here, So You Should Buy Him A Drink." Personally, I prefer the first song title.

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