Titus Andronicus (Photo by Ray Concepcion)
If I told you Titus Andronicus put on a recent punk show at the Black Cat, that would be true, but it wouldn’t be the whole truth. While punk is most certainly the foundation of what they do, their style ranges over alternative, folk, and roots rock as well. Their projects — like the Civil War-theme concept album, The Monitor — often explore subjects that you might not encounter with a typical punk band. And their influences extend to Bruce Springsteen, whose “Glory Days” they covered in their encore. (Like Springsteen, Titus Andronicus frontman and principal songwriter Patrick Stickles is also a son of New Jersey.)
Naming themselves after the play by William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus first exploded on the scene in 2008 with their debut LP, The Airing of Grievances, named after a bit from TV’s Seinfeld. (The Airing of Grievances is a part of the fictional holiday, Festivus, created by George Costanza’s father, Frank, and commences with the words, “I have a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it.”) The set included the first track from the album, “Fear and Loathing in Mahway, New Jersey,” which is almost certainly riffing on the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The band released a new album last year, The Will to Live, and they opened the set at Black Cat on April 4 with one of its tracks, “My Mother Is Going to Kill Me.” I can’t really relate to this; to quote a joke Jesse Malin once told me, “What’s the difference between an Italian mother and a Jewish mother. An Italian mother says, ‘I’m going to kill you;’ a Jewish mother says, ‘I’m going to kill myself.'” They followed with several more songs from the record: “(I’m) Screwed,” “Give Me Grief,” and “Baby Crazy,” with old favorite “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” sandwiched in between them.
Watch the official music video for “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” by Titus Andronicus on YouTube:
The middle section of the set contained a number of songs from their back catalogue: “Fatal Flaw,” “Fired Up,” and “Dimed Out.” Before “Tumult Around the World,” Patrick introduced the rest of the band: Liam Betson on guitar, RJ Gordon on bass, Chris Wilson on drums, and Michael Carson on keyboards. In the last third of the set, Titus Andronicus drew from the aforementioned Civil War concept album, The Monitor, playing “Four Score and Seven” and a “More Perfect Union,” both of which nod to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The main set closed, appropriately, with “Titus Andronicus Foerver” and “…And Ever.”
Titus Andronicus played with the volume and intensity you might expect to see at a Black Cat show, but what they do is, in some ways, atypical of punk. Punk sends to be very fast and very shot, while their songs are often longer. In about 90 minutes, they got through 15 songs; I’ve seen other punk bands get through nearly as many in about an hour. And they didn’t do it by bloating their show with a lot of banter, either — it was pretty much all music.
Patrick Stickles’s lyrics, as I’ve been saying, are unusually literate, not just for punk, but for any kind of popular music, and they’ve gained him recognition as an excellent songwriter. It’s fitting that the end of the show connected him and his band to Springsteen, as Springsteen’s lyrics are also distinguished by their literary depth and sophistication. At the same, just like Springsteen Titus Andronicus can flat out rock, making for a rare combination of intensity and lyrical richness.
My editor commented on how he didn’t think this was my usual cup of tea, and, while he might be right, I’d point out, this is a band that takes its name from Shakespeare and is influenced by Abraham Lincoln and Hunter S. Thompson. For a nerd like me, this is great!