Sunday, December 2, 2012

Titus Andronicus Returned to the Elysian Fields

Titus Andronicus / Ceremony at Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ, December 1st, 2012

I've always liked Lou Barlow's honesty.  Over the years, he's been very candid about his feelings following his ouster from Dinosaur Jr. by J Mascis.  He hasn't been afraid to opine on the post-Barlow 1990's output of Dinosaur Jr., and he's been honest about the difficulty and awkwardness that's accompanied the band's very successful reunion.

During the Sentridoh portion of Sebadoh's show a few months ago, Barlow commented on his early years growing up in Massachusetts.  A cheer rose up from the crowd, and Barlow took the opportunity to let the crowd know of his disdain for regional pride.  He said he thought it was ridiculous.  To an extent, I agreed.  I've always been suspicious of anything that feeds human beings' natural tendency toward clannishness and tribalism.  And what's the point, really, of a reflexive fist pump at the mention of Boston, Brooklyn, or New Jersey?  In another sense, though, I think regional pride can unify people from different places -- as in, "This is how we do it where I'm from in New Jersey / the East Coast / the United States of America."

I had a choice last night.  I could see a galaxy of my heroes -- J Mascis, Frank Black, Johnny Marr, Kim Gordon, and yes, Lou Barlow -- perform, in its entirety, one of the albums that has been most important to me over the last two decades; or I could see a bunch of guys from New Jersey who have been at it for around five or six years.  I mean no disrespect to Lou Barlow and Dinosaur Jr., both of whom I basically worship; but it was really no contest.  Going into Manhattan versus going to Hoboken, the intimate Maxwell's versus the cavernous Terminal 5 -- those were factors.  I have to confess, though, that I think there was a bit of regional pride at work as well.  CoolMom even sucked it up and joined me for what was going to be a very late show.

We walked into Maxwell's just as openers, Ceremony, were getting ready for their set.  Maxwell's holds an important place not only in New Jersey music history, but also in American history.  Its front door sits adjacent to where third base used to be on Elysian Fields, the site of the first-ever organized baseball game.  I hadn't been in the place since CoolMom and I lived in Hoboken almost twenty years ago, and I'd forgotten just how small the performance space really is.  The tight space and its low ceiling gave the feeling that we were sharing the room with Ceremony rather than simply watching the show.  The band did a great, crushingly loud, virtually non-stop set that opened with current single "Hysteria" and closed with "Sick" from 2010's Rohnert Park.  Surprisingly, the Maxwell's crowd remained pretty calm throughout, even when lead singer Ross Farrar climbed down from the stage into the crowd.

A nice thing about Maxwell's:  at the bar between sets, I was able to compliment Ceremony drummer Jake Cassarotti on an excellent performance and exchange a quick pre-performance hello with Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus.

Titus Andronicus took the stage at about 11:30 and opened, as they did at The Stone Pony earlier in the year, with a cover of "The Boys Are Back in Town."  The effects of playing and touring together as a band for nine months were evident as the quintet sounded even better than they did back at that show in March.  They played selections from each of the three Titus Andronicus LP's, the now energetic crowd wildly singing along with lines like, "You will always be a loser!" "Your life is over!" "Built to last!" and "The enemy is everywhere!"  Drummer Eric Harm's father, Steven, joined the band to play harmonica on Local Business cut "Tried to Quit Smoking," and Patrick Stickles pointed out that Titus Andronicus are a "family affair."  As the band closed out the set with "Four Score and Seven" from The Monitor, the tight quarters and the hometown crowd made last night feel like Titus Andronicus had a family of a few hundred.

Titus Andronicus have said of this tour, "PUNK IS BACK."  Their music, however, is as influenced by traditional rock and roll, especially on Local Business, as by punk.  Stickles dedicated the Rolling Stones-ish "(I Am The) Electric Man" to his father, noting that his dad enjoys old-time rock and roll.  The band also did a cover of The Contours' "Do You Love Me?"  And I love that the rock guitar solo is a standard part of the Titus Andronicus arsenal.

The Dinosaur Jr. You're Living All Over Me anniversary celebration at Terminal 5 sounds like it was a fantastic night as well.  I'm sticking by my choice, though.  As much as I love J, Lou, Murph, Frank, Johnny, and Kim, I had to show up for my home state and support a couple of great local businesses.

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