Titus Andronicus at 7th Street Entry, 11/22/12
There's "bringing it" and then there's "Bringing it." On paper, the only difference is one capital letter, but contained in that seemingly small shift is a mountain of heart, soul, sweat and tears -- hard work from a from a band who seems to know little else but hard work. New Jersey natives Titus Andronicus were firmly in the latter camp Thursday at the sold-out Entry, offering an extra helping of Thanksgiving dinner on a night which found them away from their friends and families, a night which could have caused them to simply phone the show in and be done with it, never having to worry about it again. However, Titus Andronicus has never operated like that and holiday or not, they wouldn't for this show either.
Opening with "A More Perfect Union" from 2010's The Monitor and "Joset of Nazareth's Blues" from 2008's The Airing of Grievances, they got the night off to a roaring start and offered a pretty good sketch of what attracts people to this band. The overall aesthetic of Titus Andronicus both in concert and in recorded form is full of anomalies and contradictions: it's punk rock but it's deceptively complex and the songs themselves often possess running times that are very "un-punk." The music is often visceral and violent, while the lyrics are literate, bordering on nerdy (to wit, The Airing of Grievances ends with 6-minute reading from Camus' The Stranger.) and at times laugh-out-loud funny, creating a jarring smart/dumb dichotomy that can only be reconciled by witnessing the live show.
"Ok, now we're going to do some new ones for you guys," offered lead singer Patrick Stickles, and as they rolled through "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With the Flood of Detritus" from their new Local Business, during which there was a moment that they fully hooked nearly everyone in the crowd, not to let go for the rest of the 95-minute set as they put a stamp on it with "Richard II." The band was channeling their holiday lament into the show, perhaps; Working out their frustrations right in front of us.
The set wasn't without problems, unfortunately, as one of Stickles' effects pedals started malfunctioning early on, causing a couple of long breaks between songs as he attempted to fix it, only to have it completely sputter out about four songs in. He was clearly annoyed ("That would have been a lot better if my pedal hadn't fucked up," he lamented after a song toward the end of the set) but it was a surprisingly small setback as sometimes occurrences like that can almost completely derail a show.
The show's intensity started to climb as a few in attendance began to crowd-surf within the ever growing mosh pit in front of the stage and those few became many during "Food Fight" and "My Eating Disorder" (both songs dedicated to Thanksgiving itself by Stickles) and for the rest of the set it seemed at least one person was atop the crowd in the low-clearance Entry. "Ecce Homo" and "Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter" doing absolutely nothing in the way of reining in the crowd and continuing with "Ghost With a Boner" and "The Battle of Hampton Roads," the latter of which found Stickles on top of the monitors, shoving the microphone into peoples' faces as the entire crowd sang the lyrics -- it was the least amount of work he had done all night.
The show ended with "Four Score and Seven" and even after all that had happened the crowd seemed far from satiated -- something that must happen at every Titus show, given the still wild-eyed look of the crowd. The band has that rare quality, one in which the crowd still begs for more no matter how much they give, it's a blessing and a curse, really, but ensures that next time they come through town they will likely have a full house to greet them once again.
Critic's Bias: I had been told for the better part of two years, "You have to see them live," whenever I expressed a "like, not love" sentiment about this band. I should have listened sooner.
The Crowd: Rowdy and fun, likely due to the stress of the day that many feel due to various family issues that we always hear so much about this time of year. It was probably a perfect way for many to put themselves back into balance a bit.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I love this band so much!" by many people over the course of the night.
Random Notebook Dump: You have to be awfully smart to periodically look this stupid and get away with it.