By Gabriel Mathews
TITUS ANDRONICUS w/Lemuria and Lost Boy at Center For the Arts, Eagle Rock, 9/12/13
Last night, I saw Titus Andronicus play at the Center For the Arts, Eagle Rock, with Lemuria and Lost Boy opening. Before I go any further, I think a prefatory statement about my relationship with Titus is in order:
I am fucking obsessed with Titus Andronicus. While I didn’t initially enjoy their debut, 2008’s The Airing of Grievances, after their Civil-War-as-Doomed-Relationship magnum opus The Monitor came out in 2010, I fell in love, reevaluated the first album, and went and saw the band at The Bootleg for what was one of the best, most narratively epic nights of my life. I proceeded to catch them at FYF Fest the following summer, and then opening for Okkervil River at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland a year later. In the fall of my junior year of college, I took a class on the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, for which I wrote a 30-page term paper on the Nietzschean themes of The Monitor. (In a beautiful twist, it was initially Nietzsche that seemed Andronicusian to me, rather than the other way around.) Yes, I sent the paper to Mr. Andronicus himself, Patrick Stickles. Yes, he read it and responded enthusiastically at 3 AM (Apparently I was the first person ever to realize the album’s narrative started at track three? C’mon, people!). And yes, I giggled like a little girl and probably pissed myself a little. I definitely pissed myself when he proceeded to tweet about how my email was perhaps the best he’d ever received and that he suddenly understood new things about the relationship that sparked The Monitor. (If anyone here has not yet checked out Stickles’ twitter, do so immediately.) A year later, I was station manager at KOXY, Occidental College’s radio station (former post of YACHT’s Claire L. Evans and Nite Jewel’s Ramona Gonzales, thank you very much), and I used my clout and the college’s money to bring Titus to campus shortly after they released their excellent third record Local Business. The show was plagued with electrical difficulties, and many songs were cut in half by power outages (I still curse that faulty power strip to this day), but the band rolled with the punches like the pros/good guys they are, everyone had a blast, and it was one of the most glorious nights of my life.
tl;dr: I am fucking obsessed with Titus Andronicus.
So seeing them last night at CFAER was something I’d been looking forward to with immense excitement to for months. When I saw that Lemuria, who I recently discovered accidentally at FYF (which, by the way, I hope to cover in some depth here in the near future) while waiting for Waxahatchee to go on, was added to the bill, I was even more stoked. The night finally came, and here’s how it went down.
Lost Boy were pretty fucking boring, lazy rock in the vein of Mac DeMarco and all those other boring people. Please pass over them so they can disappear quietly. Buffalo, NY power trio Lemuria did a great job just doing their thing. Drummer/primary songwriter Alex Kerns is a national gem, and the band sounded simultaneously on point and rough-edged. (Note: These guys make good albums, but it’s live where they shine with a toughness not evident on the recordings. Catch them if you have the chance.)
Then Titus. By this point, the excitement in the room was palpable. This is unsurprising: the best thing about any Titus show is not the band’s energy, nor the setlist, nor the between song banter, nor anything the band even do themselves. It’s the sense of community that comes from moshing like crazy and shouting along with lines like “YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A LOSER!” and “YOUR LIFE IS OVER!” with 50-100 other 100% fully stoked people. Patrick Stickles has a way of speaking directly to the souls of many, while maintaining a very personal, very confessional lyrical style that you wouldn’t expect to light a fire in all these the hearts. His words impress on several levels—narrative ability, verbosity, abundant references literary and geographical, and especially in their emotional resonance and ensuing uplift. That said, Stickles is something of a grouch (He’s bipolar and has a rare eating disorder that allows him to consume about five different foods, so it’s no surprise), and you don’t go to a Titus show expecting the guy to be all buddy-buddy with you and your friends or to grin ecstatically while watching the crowd shout along with every word.
Even so, I was actually surprised when the band took the stage and Patrick had himself set up so he faced stage right, where bear-like guitarist Adam Reich was sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers 59Fifty and soloing his meanest solos ever. Stickles occasionally turned to face the audience, but spent most of the set staring intently at Adam, with his back to bassist Julian Veronesi, who seemed to just be kickin’ it in his own little world.
A word on the lineup: in the five Titus shows I’ve been to I’ve seen three different bands. The only constant aside from Stickles is drummer Eric Harm, who I’m guessing has immense reserves of patience simply untenable by others. If I had to pick a favorite, this four-piece would definitely not be it (I’d probably go with the first version I ever saw, which featured stalwart bassist Ian Graetzer and the perpetually excited Amy Klein on guitar and electric violin, as well third guitarist/keyboardist Dave Robbins.), but they definitely play real tight together, even after the recent loss of third guitarist Liam Betson to Canada/engagement. Anyway, moving on.
The setlist was a bit of a surprise—light on The Monitor, wildly heavy on Grievances. They played five of that album’s nine songs, including quasi-throwaways like “Joset Of Nazareth’s Blues” and “My Time Outside The Womb” and not including either part one or two of the amazing “No Future” suite. They also hit on a few new songs, which are slated to appear on the band’s recently announced fourth record, a 30+ song rock opera about a young man with bipolar disorder trying to find love in this rough-and-tumble modern world. The first and most fun of these was the thirty-second hardcore blast of “Look Alive,” which Stickles introduced with a description of the album’s first act: “We find our hero in that classic struggle of trying to first get out of bed and then leave the house. Spoiler alert: . . . it doesn’t happen.” The set sagged a bit in the middle, even as Patrick removed his shirt in the boiling heat of the venue, with a few middling new tracks, what seemed like a cover that I didn’t recognize at all, and an impossibly slow rendition of devastating Monitor ballad “To Old Friends And New.” (This one featured the best, and maybe only, bit of real audience interaction, when Stickles halted mid-verse to stare fireily into the eyes of a guy sitting on his friend’s shoulders. After a few seconds he pointed straight at the dude and said “This is what you want, isn’t it? Alright, everyone’s eyes back on me.” Then he picked up where he left off.) Despite this sag, we still got hit parades at start and finish: Local Business trio “In A Big City,” “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus” and “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter” opened the set, while “Four Score And Seven,” “No Future Part Three” and “Titus Andronicus” closed it out. Lord knows why they went with “(I Am The) Electric Man” over, say, “My Eating Disorder,” or “Richard II,” but, hey, can’t complain too much. (I was really, really sad, though, that they didn’t do “The Battle Of Hampton Roads,” which has closed out at least three of the other TA sets I’ve seen. But I give them a free pass because that one probably requires three guitars, and maybe even a some bagpipes.)
The crowd, an incredibly important factor at any Titus show, receives a B+. It would have been perfect were there not the two or three incredibly belligerent assholes who decided to bull-charge everyone whenever possible, but those guys always bring a show down a bit. I’ve always found the pit at Titus shows to be amazingly friendly, and to find such cretins here was quite a comedown. Where’s the fun in behaving this way? Save the violence for Mayhem concerts. Also, a quick shoutout to the CFAER, which has provided me, as a Northeast LA resident, with countless awesome opportunities and events and a lot of very very cheap beer, though not very much cool air.
When my friends and I left the Center, though, utterly drenched through with sweat both ours and not, a couple of strange reactions bubbled to the surface. My friend Landon, who perhaps idolizes Patrick Stickles even more than I do, was somewhat infuriated by a variety of factors: the dickheads in the crowd, the weird setlist that seemed to him like a “fuck you”, and Stickles’ general refusal to seem like he was having a good time. Landon makes a solid point that touring the fuck out of songs which are designed as intense personal revelations can lead them to lose a lot of their heft and meaning, but I can’t say I blame Stickles & co. for not being able to maintain their emotional wallop at all times. My girlfriend had an entirely different response. She’d never been to a Titus show before, and had only really heard their music when I played her The Monitor earlier in the day as preparation. She found that, perplexingly, she couldn’t even tap her foot to this “pop punk,” (Ah, metalheads…) and was utterly baffled by the insane adulation pouring out of myself and everyone else in the pit. This led me to think about what makes Titus Titus, and I have to come back to the lyrics—Titus Andronicus would be just another rock band, albeit a skilled one, were it not for Stickles incredible soul-bearing verses. His words tie grand Nietzschean philosophy and small-scale, day-to-day challenges like getting out of bed into one giant mess that it’s damn hard not to relate to. And for this, I love them.
So was I, like my companions, disappointed by the show? No, though I guess I’d say it scores fourth out of the five Titus shows I’ve seen. I see Landon’s points, and it really is important to ask whether a song resonates less with each repetition. But I have to think about the perils of being a touring band, about the authenticity that is almost impossible to maintain, and about the undeniable fact that bands morph and change and you either have to roll with it or find yourself saddened. I also have to go take a shower, I still have those asshats’ sweat on me.
(PS: In case you were wondering, yes, I talked to Patrick before the show, and yes, he still thinks my paper is the best piece of criticism his work has ever received. He also promises that it will take a much longer paper to work through album number four, but he says he’ll write it this time. I can’t wait.)