Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Live: Titus Andronicus

When: 3/27
Where: Market Hotel

I've seen Titus Andronicus twice at Bowery Ballroom, a large venue that's somewhere in the no man's land between the indie and corporate worlds. It's not a bad place, and not huge either, but it's a far cry from a musty basement or abandoned warehouse. So I was glad to finally have a chance to see this neo-hardcore band play in a place that was truly "punk" - the enigmatic loft venue Market Hotel, which throws DIY all-ages shows with some of the best bands around.

I gather that the show was booked by the famous Todd P, and he knows how to get the kids out. The large-ish space was very respectably filled, though not uncomfortably packed. The young punks crowded around the stage, while the slightly older, calmer audience members stood out of the fray. (Those of us over 95 stood in the foyer.)

Now understand that when I call Titus and their fans "punks," I don't mean kids sporting mohawks and safety pins - I don't even mean shaved-head, skull-tattoo hardcore types. Like Titus's music, this crowd has jettisoned all the washed up cliches of punk. Angry, macho metalheads co-opted both the loud-fast music of punk (creating "thrash") and its once-confrontational fashion statements long ago. I even doubt most of the audience would consider themselves "punk" after seeing the term applied to those assholes.

But Titus and their fans really are punk, in the best possible way - their music is aggressive but also intelligent and fun. And like real punks, they have a strong sense of community, are open-minded and respectful and subscribe to the egalitarian DIY ethos that has been punk's underlying current since its inception.

And true to the spirit of punk, the front of the house was an indecipherable tangle of moshing bodies. Though the space wasn't quite crowded enough to support it, a constant stream of stage divers leapt onto a very enthusiastic sea (well, pond) of raised hands, who did their best to keep their charges afloat and out of danger.

Titus was clearly in their element, with frontman Patrick Stickles taking quite a few leaps off the stage himself. The band played their songs faster and louder than I've heard them before, and while it was mostly still tracks off their 2008 album, they threw in a few numbers I hadn't heard before. The new songs seemed to take the band's style (i.e. epic hardcore manifestos) to its extreme. They may have dragged out a little too long, but they showed an even greater honing of the band's use of contrast, bouncing not only between hushed and really fuckin loud, but also between sweet, slow, emotive passages and really fuckin loud. And as a special treat, they played a cover announced as "the greatest rock and roll song of all time" - it was the Modern Lovers' "Road Runner."

Stickles may have grown a little too fond of his own voice, carrying on at length between songs - but he's entertaining and the band's self-deprecating humor sat well with the crowd.

The whole show had a strong feeling of camaraderie - band members would crowd-surf, and even once sent a guitar alone into the audience. No matter what was passed to them, the audience always returned it carefully to the stage after a little trip around the front rows. And after the final song, the moshers rushed the stage, hugging the band and nearly tackling them - like an overgrown puppy who isn't aware of his own strength. In the process, guitarist Andrew Cedermark's glasses were broken, but when he lamented the cost of new ones, the audience rapidly passed up handfuls of cash for to fund a new pair. (Cedermark rejected the donations but Stickles gladly picked them up.)

To this new generation of punks, who love the music and not the bullshit, who are inclusive and who truly make their own fun - thank you! It was a great night with a great band, a show I won't forget anytime soon.


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