With Spider Bags and Baked
Friday, September 18, 2015
Despite two previous tours which both stopped in Dallas, New Jersey sextet Titus Andronicus seem to have been unable to convince Dallas audiences of their relevance, as evidenced by a rather disappointing turnout on Friday night at Trees. It was Dallas' loss.
Patrick Stickles and his tragically merry band of musicians took the stage shortly after 9:30 on Friday night at Trees and the energy didn’t lapse until they left the stage over 20 songs and two hours later. The band was in town as part of their national tour supporting The Most Lamentable Tragedy, an appropriately theatrical title for an album by a band named after a revenge-seeking Roman general in a Shakespeare play.
The album, the band’s fourth, debuted earlier this summer and has threatened to overshadow its creators thanks to the fawning hype of the press. Billed as a “rock opera in five acts,” the 29-song album and its 93 minutes of unabashedly anthemic punk, classic rock and hardcore was (now perhaps somewhat infamously) written by Stickles after recovering from a 13-month manic depressive episode. In the age of singles and playlists, to call it ambitious is an understatement.
But Titus has never portended to be anything less. The band’s breakthrough second album The Monitor, released in 2010, is a concept album that explores the pains of growing up and the Civil War. (Don’t ask questions; just listen.) The overly effusive “love fest” the press has had with TLMT and the heavily discussed neuroses and psychological issues which plague Stickles puts Titus squarely in the high-risk zone for independent musicians; more words are written than tickets sold.
Plus, you may reasonably be wondering if Stickles is really that fucked up (there are also a number of songs and interviews which attest to a pretty debilitating eating disorder) how in the hell does he keep it together as a performer? That’s why you should have been at Trees on Friday night. The answer, at least in part, lies in performance.
Although the band could not exist without Stickles’ talented bandmates which now include, more or less officially, keys player Elio De Luca, in addition to guitarists Adam Reich and Liam Betson, bassist Julian Veronesi and drummer Eric Harm, Titus is all about Stickles (something to which the band’s notoriously high turnover rate would seem to attest.)
Stickles set that tone from the beginning of the set. Accompanied by De Luca, providing a mellow, playful intro, he exhorted audience members to stay cool and reminisced about past trips to Dallas. He presaged the darkly confessional music that was to follow with cryptic one-liners like, “Certain things you can say to a melody you just can’t say,” before launching into an acoustic version of “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus.’”
After that Stickles was joined on stage by the rest of Titus and the harmonies, triple-guitar attacks and catchy yet blistering mixture of punk and classic rock never slowed.
There’s almost nothing to critique about a Titus live show these days. As they’ve done throughout this tour and previous ones, Titus played a mixture of old and new. They also inserted a couple of covers (this is a band not shy about giving credit to those who came before). Generally the covers change nightly on tours and on Friday included the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” (complete with a crowd-pleasing freestyle from Patrick) and the Eagles’ “Take it Easy.” (This is Texas after all.)
The band’s playing was incredibly tight, transitioning easily from hardcore songs such as “I’m Going Insane” to power anthems like “Fired Up” or TMLT’s single “Dimed Out,” which featured a sing-along that was less polished than the recording but no less epic, with Stickles’ band mates joining him in screaming their paean to maximum volume.
Apart from a malfunctioning bass amp mid-set which was quickly rectified (not a bad thing anyways since it gave Stickles the opportunity to show off his freestyle chops), the show went off without a hitch.
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Apart from the incontestable fact that this music, with it’s epic proportions and arena-ready hooks, is written to be performed, and experienced, seeing the band live rectifies the seeming incompatibility of Stickles’ brutally confessional lyrics and the euphoric anthems he often pens; for Stickles’ this shit is therapeutic.
Although not a self-conscious performer, Stickles seems perfectly comfortable on stage, he doesn’t talk a lot but when he does he puts off a cynical, veteran vibe; he’s got this, but he also needs it.
If there is any one band capable of convincing music fans that rock is not dead, Titus is a strong contender. Stickles and crew play a brand of punk with an unabashedly classic rock bent, indebted to Springsteen’s E-Street Band (see The Monitor’s “A More Perfect Union) and the Clash (“I Lost My Mind”) as much as they are to hardcore. It’s brash and blistering, but often melodic and anthemic. They’re one of a number of recent punk/rock bands who are picking up where the alternative bands of the 80’s and 90’s left off; willing to acknowledge, where many of their more hardcore predecessors were not, the influence and importance of classic rock.
TMLT is undeniably the band’s most polished record and, if Friday night’s performance is any indication, the band which recorded it and is now touring with Stickles, may be the best incarnation of Titus yet. If only more people in Dallas had appreciated that fact.