March 22, 2011
New Jersey is not a state admired by many outsiders. They say that our people are loud and our drivers are terrible. This past Friday, however, Jersey-based band Titus Andronicus showed Brandeis what the Garden State is also famous for: we know how to rock.Titus Andronicus’ music is a blend of indie rock, punk and shoegaze. They sound like the loud angry offspring of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Raconteurs. The band formed in 2005, the year after singer and guitarist Patrick Stickles graduated from Glen Rock High School (my own alma mater). Their first studio album, The Airing of Grievances, was released in 2008 under Troubleman Unlimited. The band then signed with XL Recordings, who released their second studio album, The Monitor, in 2010.
The Montreal-based band Among Your Many Friends opened the Cholmondeley’s show Friday night around 9 p.m. They provided a good start to the show, but singer Tim Beeler was ill and didn’t perform at his best. It was the second band to perform, Old Abram Brown, that really captivated the audience.
Old Abram Brown’s dark, fast songs were anchored by singer Carson Lund’s penetrating vocals. After their short set was done, members of the audience screamed for the band to continue, but it was time for the main act to take the stage.
Chum’s was packed by the time Titus Andronicus began to play. Fans pressed together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a tight mob. Once the music began, the front of the audience started slam dancing, passionately bouncing off one another as they screamed the lyrics along with Stickles. As the concert continued, the crowd grew more raucous. Fans crowd surfed, danced on stools and hung off of the pipes running along the ceiling. They weren’t angry, however, as one may expect at a punk show. Rather, they were acutely happy to be listening to one of the coolest new bands to emerge in the past few years.
Titus Andronicus started off strong with their song “No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future” from The Monitor early in their set. The crowd sang along to the chorus, repeating the line “You will always be a loser” again and again. Despite the lyrical content of “No Future Part Three,” and many of Titus’ other songs, their overall tone is more jubilant than furious. Fans relate to the words, but it was the rhythm on Friday that kept them dancing. Drummer Eric Harm provided fast thumping beats and the crowd could feel Julian Veronesi’s bass through the floor and in the air.
Titus Andronicus has received much critical acclaim since the release of The Airing of Grievances. Rolling Stone Magazine named the group one of the top seven new bands of 2010 and Entertainment Weekly gave their first album an “A” grade. Many reviewers note the band’s influences, including Bruce Springsteen and Bright Eyes–the second of which Titus will be playing several shows with in April. Titus Andronicus certainly has roots in ’80s punk and ’90s grunge, and they are a mix between a modern feel and an old-style work ethic, promoting their music and blogging on the Web as well as asking to sleep on fans’ floors after their shows.
Their most recent music video, for “No Future Part Three” features fans grooving out to the song. Stickles asked fans to come to the shoot on the band’s blog. As guitarist and violinist Amy Klein explained, “communicating directly with our fans takes away the boundary between the band and the audience. People can stop feeling like the person onstage is unapproachable.” Veronesi added, “at our shows we try to talk to people if they want to come up and talk to us. We want to know the people who are listening to our music.” Stickles commented on the negative side of this personal relationship with fans: “If you want to get on the level with your brothers and sisters in the rock ‘n’ roll community, you’ve got to be ready to accept the people who think you suck.”
Another less-common musical influence on The Monitor is the American Civil War. Harm explained that the concept was Stickles’ idea. The singer watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary The Civil War and believes that “the conflicts of that era have a lot in common with the conflicts of the modern era.” The cover art of the album is a black-and-white photograph of Civil War soldiers, and the title is taken from a famous naval battleship of the time.
In addition, there are also several spoken-word clips mixed in with the songs on the album, including a reenactment of an Abraham Lincoln speech. “It’s like textual support. It’s support for our argument,” Stickles said. “It’s the wisdom of the ages that we’re perverting for our own selfish purposes. … It’s all about creating a mood, creating a context. And it’s kind of cool, because it’s like what Wu-Tang [Clan] did, adding kung-fu dialogue into their work.”
Titus Andronicus is continuing their tour across the country on their way to Coachella music festival and back through the end of April.