@ The Independent
September 8, 2010
Better than: Listening to either of these bands' records.
"We are the musicians, but each of you is just as special as us. Let's put that to the test." If Titus Andronicus hasn't quite announced its mission statement, last night at the Independent, frontman Patrick Stickles made it clear: this is music made to help amateurs feel important. The band's songs can be simply constructed with three to four chords, but they'll be delivered with such epic ardor and stirring dynamics that you'll feel like a total rock star listening and singing along to them. Even the sing-along sections are made for musically untrained ears, relentlessly repeating elementary phrases and pounding chants into the ground, testing stamina in simple ways, while -- perhaps -- offering clever meta-commentary on the audience: "You will always be a loser and that's okay!" Who needs skill when you have passion?
To prove his point, after delivering the above mentioned line, the lead singer and guitarist allowed an audience member to come onto stage for the band's self-titled song and play tambourine. This is the song that includes the line, "I didn't come here to be damned with faint praise, I'll write my masterpiece some other day," explaining the band's preference for down-to-earth emotion over ambitious technical proficiency. "Innovation," the song goes, "I leave to smarter men." Titus Andronicus creates fun everyone can participate in -- not just pros.
In contrast, the night's openers, Free Energy, championed technical proficiency in pursuit of pumping up the audience, parading their lead guitarist's skills on the fretboard as a crowd-pleaser and making vocal attempts to rile up the audience into dancing. This is the sort of band that places the musicians higher than the audience in the food chain of performances. You aren't supposed to relate to the band, you're supposed to go to their shows to be impressed. But the crowd's response last night showed that this was an equally effective strategy.
The only way to correctly deliver Thin Lizzy and T. Rex impersonations, after all, is shamelessly, and so the members of Free Energy didn't flinch once. The band members used cowbell and donned muscle t-shirts and ripped skinny jeans. They threw down dramatic, slow-motion guitar-hero moments, and sang romantically of stars and streetlights over soaring arena-rock hooks. Such wide-eyed innocence does the same thing that Titus does -- thta is, display what unpretentious fun can accomplish.
For Titus, the rhythm section (bass, drums and rhythm guitar) tended to overpower the lead instruments (organ, lead guitar), which was actually mostly appropriate because the band's songs are usually about the sum rather than individual parts. At least, that was okay until it was time for a guitar solo. Those moments should have shone, but instead they sounded mostly like mild bridges, especially compared to the band's more balanced sound this past weekend at the Fuck Yeah Fest in L.A. A couple of more recent fans were even having trouble distinguishing the songs from one another, because, in true punk rock fashion, the distinctiveness of the changes are a major component of what sets Titus songs apart from one another. Free Energy's guitar heroism, however, was given the emphasis it deserved last night.
In addition to free energy, the openers also offered free merchandise, including lighters with their band name on it -- presumably for optimizing the band's power ballad sing-along experience.
Titus Andronicus Setlist
A More Perfect Union
Upon Viewing Brueghel's "Landscape With The Fall of Icarus"
Part 3: Escape From No Future
Arms Against Atrophy
Theme From "Cheers"
Fear and Loathing in Mawnah, NJ
Roadrunner (Modern Lovers Cover)
The Battle of Hampton Roads
Four Score and Seven