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The Weekend That Changed My Life: Paul Simon, Titus Andronicus, Los Campesinos In 2009

LC! use their fingers for crossing
The duo return
Titus Andronicus at their best

There are many crimes and many deaths laid like wreaths at the feet of alcoholism but one thing is absolutely true: you get up to things you wouldn’t normally. Paul Williams tells stories so hair raising of insane risks taken while drunk it is a wonder. I myself would go to sleep in the Middle East and wake up in Europe with no idea how I got there.

And the story I am relating here? I spent the weekend of February 14th, 2009, nearing the tailend of a drinking jag that almost killed me, at concerts. But it was an exceptional weekend, highlighted by watching Paul Simon reopen the Beacon Theatre after an extended renovation on Valentine’s Day (after I was dismissed from a serious arrangement) and the following day, a Sunday, I saw Los Campesinos and Titus Andronicus at the Bowery Ballroom.

Paul Simon was fun, though the day I saw him (he had performed on the Friday as well) we didn’t get Art and we got a very good career spanner (though his final performance at MSG in 2018 was better here). It maybe better than I remember., I fell asleep during “The Obvious Child” and woke up for the encore. It was a good evening and the very next evening I was still drinking very heavily and arrived at Bowery Ballroom, completely clueless as to time, and got in line an hour before the doors. Looking about me, I clearly wasn’t the demo. I was half way through my 52nd year and after flipping out over Titus Andronicus eponymous debut, I flipped out over Los Campesinos masterpiece, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.No, I wasn’t the demo but I was a clear target for these guys. A month later I would catch Van Morrison performing Astral Weeks… twice. The urge to write about the Van shows was huge, but of the three LC/TA were the ones.

Leaning against the stage, two hours before the show began, I promptly fell asleep and was awoken by the sound of Patrick Stickles and his band starting their set. Patrick has two great albums to his name and his debut was one of them. That was the album TA were flogging, an anthemic scream of pop punk escapades with as much of a way out as “Albert Camus” (a song on the album). Titus appeared shambolic (so did Los Campesinos) but it wasn’t that at all, the band fell over itself without ever losing its way, the songs crashed through at you in guitar waves that never lost track of the song.

Stickles himself was a thin, bearded Irish man from New Jersey who dropped out of college where he was moments away from following his family into teaching (and miles away from joining his brother in the armed forces), instead he looked at life and assumed (accurately) that our lives are over so why not dance on our graves? While for 20 somethings there is a level of irony to Titus, for a 52 year old man it felt more like a self-evident truth and screaming along and pounding the stage with my fist, I got the release from the girl, and from my sadness, I had been looking for.

By the time I saw Los Campesinos, the seven piece Welsh indie rockers had become the Gareth show and Gareth used the tiny stage to fall apart with acumen. Their very next album, Romance Is Boring, ended things between us. But a setlist with the height of heights “This Is How You Spell “HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics” and the even better penultimate song of the idea evening “You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing,”the band’s best song, was more than enough to match Titus.

Between “You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing” and “Titus Andronicus” hopes and dreams were put to bed, they are nihilistic aesthetic outbursts of youthful rage against the resolutely meaninglessness of everything with both the freedom and the strictures that might imply. From Patrick the “your life is over” singalong and for Gareth the entire “letter to God” verse where Gareth finds hope in our complete lack of need for a God to watch over us, the “we’ve learnt not to rely on you or anyone else” is the most positive negativity you will ever hear. At 52, it reminded me that it doesn’t matter and to find the joy at the center of life is to embrace both times intransigence and our own imminent demise.

Titus’s follow up, The Monitor, would be his masterpiece and then not much since then, Gareth would never approach these heights again. And on the way home I thought how much I’d love to share that concert, that weekend, and two months later I would start rocknyc

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