Concert Review: Titus Andronicus

  • Titus Andronicus performs at SXSW in March 16. Photo Jason Persse

A few hours before Titus Andronicus took to the modest, two-foot-high wooden stage at Il Motore Wednesday night, my friend Nat asked me if I was excited for the show.

“Not really, to be honest,” I told her. “I hate concerts, by and large.”

For me, most concerts are exercises in doing things you dislike because the alternative is worse. I don’t feel comfortable around large groups of strangers, but a life of repeatedly not seeing your favourite acts simply because you’re a coward/introvert is hardly a life at all.

So, like anyone with a well-developed sense of Protestant work ethic, I was preparing to make my third trip in four years to the sparsely populated Mile-End block that houses Il Motore to see the best punk band in America, Titus Andronicus.

Marrying nihilism with optimism, turning lines about loserdom, madness and the full breadth of the Western literary canon into crowd-friendly chant-alongs, lead singer Patrick Stickles has a lyrical voice all his own, and his actual voice sounds like Conor Oberst filtered through a severe smoking habit and a host of anger-management issues.

Given the lineup changes the band’s gone through—the band is 3/5 members who weren’t around last time I saw them—it’s fair to assume that Titus is Stickles’ project, through and through, and there is something about his on-stage demeanor—the sardonic tone, the penchant for making sure all the moshers are feeling safe, the demonization of a “shirtless goon” who had been terrorizing the pit during supporting act Ceremony’s set—that is calming to those audience members who may have been feeling reticent to get in on the action.

The band opened with a one-two punch from Local Business, Titus’s acclaimed third album, but by the beginning of the third song—the brief, wonderful, kick-stomping “Joset of Nazareth’s Blues”—I was rushing to the pit, mad with a desire to commingle with the enthusiasm, vitality and sweat of other people, my earlier worries forgotten.

Titus has this kind of effect on the psyche—everything is exciting and everything is okay. We’re all in this together.

Roaring through an 80-minute set that featured slightly more from 2010’s The Monitor than it did from this fall’s Local Business, the band nevertheless managed to cram in crowd-pleasing favourites from all three albums, pulling emotional catharsis from even the slowest song, “To Old Friends and New,” which Stickles sang with all the intensity of a man still feeling the words and the “you” they were written about as if she was still in the room.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. Near the end, the band shifted straight from a roaring, silly rendition of “(I am the) Electric Man”—a cut from the latest album dedicated to an electrocution Stickles suffered in 2011 from a microphone, which he sang while wearing an audience member’s glasses—into a rousing cover of the Contours’ Motown hit “Do You Love Me.”

I don’t know what the “Mashed Potato” dance consists of, but who cares, really. In the moment, everyone loved everyone.

Rather than play an encore, Stickles announced the end of the concert three or four songs in advance, noting in the interlude that this show probably set the record for stage-dives and crowd-surfing for this tour.

He was right, there was an incredible amount of crowd-surfing. “You could probably stop now,” he said, as if we’d already won the race. But the pit was irrepressible. We kept on crowd-surfing. That’s the kind of band Titus Andronicus is.

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