Sunday, October 18, 2015

Titus Andronicus Played Warsaw with EX HEX and Spider Bags, 10/16/15

The Boys Are Back in Town

When I was a kid in high school, I went to a lot of concerts. My friends and I used to calculate how much money we spent going to see our favorite bands, and it was pretty much every dollar we had. That's something that's stayed with me for my whole life. Going out to see live music is pretty much my favorite way to spend an evening.

Back then, though, most of the concerts I went to were at big venues like Madison Square Garden or Radio City Music Hall or Beacon Theatre or the Garden State Arts Center. Even the, supposedly, alternative acts I went to see were at places like that. There was the occasional standing show at The Ritz or Lone Star Roadhouse, but I wasn't a punk kid at all. No VFWs or church basements or whatever. Almost every concert I ever went to was a seated in a theater / arena / stadium kind of affair, and my seats were never up front.

I've found it kind of funny, then, that -- as I've gotten older -- the experience of sitting in some theater 20 rows back from the stage doesn't really do it for me anymore. Standing at the back and watching a band onstage over a sea of bobbing heads just seems so distant and impersonal to me now. If I get stuck near the bar, I just get angry at all the people carrying on their conversations like nothing else is happening in the room.

Doors for the Merge Records CMJ showcase at Warsaw in Greenpoint were 6:30pm. I left at about 4 and made a stop in at The Gutter where a bunch of my friends would be playing the Little Dickman / Sugar Mama BK showcase that same night. I had a couple of beverages with them, apologized in advance for missing the gig, and then made the short walk over to Warsaw.

The place was pretty empty, so I had an order of pierogies and another beer before staking out my spot in front of the stage. I'd brought my camera; so, in my mind, that was my excuse for parking myself at the stage about 3 hours before the headliners were scheduled to hit. I took off my jacket and placed it neatly at my feet. I organized my lenses and my camera bag, formatted my memory card, and was good to go.

It was about 8:15 by the time Spider Bags took the stage. Things had filled in around me a bit, but I still had plenty of room to breathe. In the three previous times I'd seen them, Spider Bags had been impressive, quickly working themselves to a sweaty frenzy. I'll admit to finding their set in Philly on the first night of this tour a little less satisfying, but I was way in the back of the room where the band had to compete with conversations and a constant flow of traffic to the merch table or the bathroom.

This time I was right up front. Spider Bags did about a half hour's worth of material that included their originals like the always awesome "Eyes of Death" and a cover of D.C. Snipers' "Baby Don't Be Violent." SPIN had released their list of "Top 50 Rock Bands Right Now" earlier in the day; and, by the time their set was over, I honestly thought about how crazy it was not to have Spider Bags on it.

I missed out on getting tickets to the EX HEX show at Monty Hall in Jersey City last spring. Then, when I was covering Northside Festival in June, Spider Bags joined EX HEX for another Merge showcase. Like this past Friday night, it was also sold out. Not really sure that my badge would get me in and wanting to catch a show by some friends across the borough, I opted to pass. CMJ was finally my chance to see Mary Timony, Betsy Wright, and Laura Harris; and they, quite simply, blew me away.

Rips is one of my favorite records from last year, even though I came to it kind of late. Songs like "Don't Wanna Lose" and "Waterfall" have a pure rock and roll simplicity that I love and that translates amazingly live. Even with my feet aching after a couple of hours of standing, being right up front as Mary Timony braced herself against the monitor to reel off a guitar solo isn't a moment I would ever trade for a comfortable seat far away from the action. And... ...not that clickbait lists mean anything... ...but SPIN missed another big one by not including EX HEX.

At about 10:30, Titus Andronicus took the stage and the room was at capacity. Every void around me had been filled by a body, and I thought about what I'd witnessed in Philly. I'll admit to getting (justifiably, it turns out) worried as I extrapolated that experience out to the 5-times-larger-than-First-Unitarian-Church Warsaw. Patrick Stickles dispensed with his usual speech about not imposing one's will on others during the show, and the band dispensed with the Stickles solo number (the song choice varies) that had opened the last few Titus Andronicus shows I'd seen. Instead, the band opened by acknowledging their return to Brooklyn from the American leg of their tour with a cover of "The Boys Are Back in Town." That, incidentally, is the first thing I ever saw Titus Andronicus perform live and the first song I officially wrote about here at the blog.

As the set progressed with "Fatal Flaw," "Stranded (On My Own)," "Lonely Boy," and the opening two tracks from Local Business -- "Ecce Homo" and "Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter" -- the crowd heaved forward, crushing me against the stage. Beer spilled down my pants. Steve from YJY patted me on the back and we screamed into each other's faces. I tried taking pictures.

Stickles then announced more songs from the band's most recent effort, The Most Lamentable Tragedy; and they ripped through most of "The Magic Morning" section of the punk opera. The crush was getting serious now. Pain as the stage felt like it was becoming one with my ribcage. The friction of moving bodies had pulled my jeans about halfway down my thighs. As Titus Andronicus finished "Fired Up," I braced for the violence that would accompany "Dimed Out." I know the set was planned, but I like to think that Patrick Stickles spotted me down front; called an audible; and gave me an ever so slight break by choosing to play "A Pot in Which to Piss."

"Dimed Out" did follow that, and it was everything I knew it would be. I stopped taking pictures for a few minutes and just tried to exert some ownership over my little plot of floor. Someone actually reached in and knocked my left hand off of the stage where it was bracing me. Things remained at a fever pitch through the second half of "Four Score and Seven" and "A More Perfect Union." When the band left the stage after concluding with "Titus Andronicus" just before midnight, the crowd screamed for more until the lights came up and security started shooing us out.

I was covered in sweat and imagining the art project of bruises that would dapple my torso in the morning as I hobbled back toward The Gutter to see if my friends were still there. "Maybe I'm getting too old for this," I thought. "Maybe I should just stand in the back like the 45-year-old dad I am and save my body."

I don't think I can do it, though. It's two days later, and I'm still sore; but I can't trade the connection, the feeling of... ...euphoria... ...exhiliration... ...anger... ...frustration... ...SOMETHING... ...for the comfort that comes from standing in the back of the room and watching things unfold from afar.

Pics at Flickr. Links below.

Titus Andronicus


Spider Bags

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