Titus Andronicus At Bowery Ballroom, Saturday, November 23rd, 2019, Reviewed
Welcome to Bowery Ballroom, Saturday, November 23rd, “Night number 72, being the final night of Titus Andronicus North American Autumn Tour, 2019”. So intones Patrick Stickles at the start of a typically, astonishingly great set. A little over 90 minutes from a recorded catalog that when stripped to its essence, and arranged for a four piece rock ensemble, is as great a vision of the enduring power of rock and roll as has ever existed. Yes, punk in spirit, but you can draw a straight line from Presley through the Stones, and end up with Titus Andronicus, in the best way possible.
There were other ways for Patrick to have gone in his life, he could have become a teacher, that would have made his father happy, (a Catholic School teacher -my 2010 interview here), and I mention this because I’ve heard Patrick lecture his audience before. In one of the wildest shows in recent memory, Titus opened for the Pogues one St. Patrick’s Day 2011 and told the audience, in all sincerity, not to drink too much… I know. Before the set began proper, Stickles warned that he wanted a polite, respectful and peaceful gathering, with no macho, aggressive, violent behavior; by the time he reached the “fuck you” on “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” the audience had lost their collective shit and a virulent moshpit erupted.
Before, before the lecture, Canadian punk pop duo Partner, blew us away. Titus Andronicus have a habit of getting great opening bands, Fucked Up, Black Lips, Wavves, Screaming Females… True Groove Records CEO Tomas Doncker, who joined me for the evening, loved Partner even more than I did. The “gay, but not for each other” two women, plus an excellent drummer for touring I guess (Hey guys, Janet Weiss is probably at a loose end right now), are youthful but classic rockists, weed enthusiasts, and Hendrix-y when the right guitar breaks grabs their interest, and from their earliest song “Hot Knives” to their latest, “Stoned Thought,” they were excellent. The one regret was it was only half an hour.
Actually, the entire night could have been twice as long. Titus Andronicus could double the set from 90 minutes to a New Jersey-ish three hours with no complaints from me. I almost cancelled going out last night (so busy at work, exhaustion setting in), but we haven’t been to a gig since Doncker returned from his European tour, and I’ve dubbed Titus Andronicus the greatest live rock and roll band around and I wanted his take. His take was mine, mouth opened astonishment at just how great the band is.
Speaking of exhaustion, before the concert I ran into Patrick and he looked thin, tired, and hyper. But he was more than up for it once he got on stage, with his father, his mother and step-father, his sister and cousins, in the audience, and a scary, worrying warning towards the end that the band has nothing planned for the future, there was nothing to hold on to. The set proved a number of things. He resurrected two songs off Local Business , and not the best, that would be “In A Big City,” and got the strong response they deserved, even while Stickles has continued to hold a grudge against the initial response. He then covered “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” off their least popular album ever, the extremely difficult A Productive Cough. Another thing: after hearing “Tumult In The World,” “(I Blame) Society,” a terrific, mind bending “Troubleman Unlimited” (“I used to be the problem child but now I am the Troubleman”) and “Just Like Ringing A Bell,” all better than on their June release, produced by Bob Mould, An Obelisk, I was surprised the album wasn’t better, it certainly wasn’t a problem with the songs -completely ace, and It couldn’t be the production. Well, now we know… The problem is, Stickles doesn’t need a producer as such. I once spoke with the producer of The Monitor (here) Kevin McMahon, who said: “Patrick knows exactly once it wants. When XL (the British indie label) came around to make suggestions, he completely ignored them. He’ll have a spoken word piece to be edited in down to the second and he tells me exactly what he wants it to sound like.” The last thing Patrick needed was anyone else’s opinion, especially from someone he would listen to. They all, every song from An Obelisk, sounded like a masterclass in classic rock dynamics.
But then again, so did everything else. We got two from the first album, three from the second, two from the third, two from the fourth. It felt like Patrick could dip in and out of his back pages with ease and pull anything out he felt like, and with a dynamite band (his best since Amy Klein was a member) and in RJ Gordon, a major bass player, they blew off the epic exhaustion they must have been experiencing to take you all the way to the song that first turned me onto the band, “Titus Andronicus”.
Unfortunately, I was downstairs at the merch table with Tomas and John Orohala (phonetic spelling) the merch guy, while Tomas stocked up on vinyl and tee shirts, John was so good natured and helpful. It is UNDOUBTEDLY Tomas fault we left early, but I don’t blame him. He picked up The Monitor on vinyl… right? right? What would you do…?
As for Stickles, he can turn on the frontman energy like a light switch but with none of the assholeness predicated in the position, “Who wants to be a fascist King?” he once asked, and it is a real gift, and an astonishingly groovy act to wander a sold out, packed to the gills, Bowery Ballroom before the show with his father. He ripped apart the distance between audience and artist just like a Joe Strummer used to do, with a “we will be at the merch table after the show if you have something to say to me …” not ask, say. Stickles never wanted what I wanted for him, he never wanted to be (antecedent Jersey boy) Springsteen for a new generation. He wanted to be a local business, he wanted to follow his own creative impulses, regardless. Last night, Titus Andronicus were not what they were but they were what they are, the greatest rock and roll band in the world.