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Titus Andronicus and Real Estate at the Whitney Museum Of American Art July 10th, 2009: Fuck Art, Let’s Dance

I am standing behind a kid during the last song of Titus Andronicus’ fascinating set at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The concert is part of the pop conceptual artist Dan Graham’s retrospective, and the kid is on tip toes on the edge of the performance area (there is no stage) and he is doing a restrained pogo and leaning towards the band and it’s as if he is straining every sinew in his body not to explode into a wild dance. But the kid can’t dance because Whitney security have threatened to stop the concert if dancing continues which leaves lead singer Patrick Stickles in the unenviable position of trying to stop the audience from doing what he is trying to get the audience to do.

A little earlier opening band, fellow New Jersey natives, and longterm friends Real Estate performed a superb set. What connects the two bands is Real Estate and Titus both use repetitive chord progressions to build a wall of sound. What makes them different is where they take the sounds. Real Estate are nominally a “shoegazer” band but they don’ come across as solipsistic, rather, and certainly last night, they are completely involved with the audience. The repetitive chord progressions and once removed vocals leads to a disconnect and leads back to Titus’ many “grievances”. On the instrumental “Pool Swimmers” I could imagine Real Estate going in a prog-rock Deady jam band direction if they chose to. These songs should lend themselves to imaginative improvisation.

Corey Tendering in the magazine “Lost In Sound” writes of downloading Titus’ album from last year “The Air Of Grievances,” and that evening on the way to a concert: “… a Stars of the Lid show was suddenly not in the cards, and I spent the remainder of the evening walking around the streets of Chicago with Titus Andronicus as the caterwauling, passionate and gritty soundtrack.” This is exactly right and this is precisely what a great rock band can do for you.

And make no mistake, Titus Andronicus are a great, great, great rock band. Stickles just has to open his mouth, a perfect instrument vacillating between scream and whinge and back again, to get his fans frenzied. The band are super-smart but not distractingly smart. They are like Oasis on Weetabix, and the reference is not as weird as it may sound because they use a similar ploy: a wall of guitars from which an indelible melody emerges. That and the epigrams so easy to sing along to (“Your life is over” for one) make em a party band par excellence. Really, if you don’t get Titus you don’t get rock.

But if you look back I said they were fascinating last night not great. The set was like a an English class project: write a review without using the letter “i”. Whitney Museum Management had been harrassing the band since the soundcheck where they complained it was too loud. Too loud?

The band takes it in stride but when they complain about a fairly benign moshpit Patrick quotes the old Madness reason for being “Fuck art, let’s dance”. A little later Security stop the concert again and again and a clearly exasperated Stickles very wittily shows his disdain by saying how there are Michaelangelo and de Vinci paintings upstairs and we have to be respectful. At a Museum of American art? Patrick obviously knows the difference and actually there are Robert Rauschenberg’s upstairs and since Rauschenberg was responsible for the limited edition sleeve of Talking Heads “Speaking In Tongues” I don’t think he would’ve minded. Eventually the set is ended early.

My friend Marie Lynn found the entire situation lame and disrepectful. “How can they invite them and not let them play?” She has some strong opinions and I am trying to convince her to post her opinions for me, especially because I don’t entirely agree.Club managers and rock bands have a love hate relationship, they love themselves and hate each other. I saw Weezer at Roseland on the “Pinkerton” tour nearly get the electricity cut on them because of a particularly virulent mosh pit. Pearl Jam had to stop mid-set at Randall’s Island during the Vitalogy tour (they would eventually start again.) Last night a woman taking photos was bumped into and dropped her camera. Their are insurance policies at work. Marie’s reply was it was the least vicious mosh pit imaginable.

Whatever it was, everything kept on distracting the band and the result was brilliant but not musically brilliant. The band were being restrained and harrassed and they kept on trying to play through it -they know the songs well as do the fans, and they play them loud and hard and the lead singer is a dynamo: shaggy and charismatic and the bass player is proforma and everything is down to the rhyth section just like the Stones were and they play dance tracks between pogo and a marching band. Dan Graham filmed the set and if what he wants to do (Vivian Girls are playing a week on Friday, I plan to be there: go to whitney.org for more info) is show where his love for underground rock is today, this should be the centerpiece because it is more than that, more than the interaction between band and consumers: it is a reflection of age and class differences and all the class was with Titus and their fans. The fans are a pleasure to watch, they are so young and happy and willing to share and be shared with the band. The fans adore Titus, the audience is won over and the management provoke one confrontation after another. We have a name for this: the theatre of the real.

Titus are a comunal band. Because they discuss depression and discuss existential crises in their songs they are misappropriated as antisocial. This is social music, it is shared miseries. Singing about nihilism is the antithesis of nihilism: there is obviously something if only the joy in musical deliverance. And anyway, if you are going to quote the ending of “The Stranger” (as they do on “Albert Camus”) you are joining life not hiding from it and one step away from discovering Carl Jung. They remind me of the Clash, Titus are nice guys (the Clash used to let broke fans stay in their hotel room) singing joyful songs about terrible things. They’re funny (dedicating “My Life Outside the Womb” to your mother is hysterical). They’re one of us. Before the concert I ask Patrick to play Spider Bag’s “Waking Up Drunk” (he kindly dedicates it to me) and wonder where Spider Bags next album is. “They’re busy raising their kids and working.” He replied. I speak with his girl friend Emily before the show and she tells me how quiet things are at the clothing store she works in. I was there early because I had a furlough day from my job. Everybody is effected. Everybody is infected. Fuck art, let’s dance.

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