Titus Andronicus + Spider Bags + Baked @ Bar “Le Ritz” P.D.B. – October 14th 2015

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Before this summer, New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus had already put out three LPs and several singles’ worth of wordy garage-rock manifestos and celtic-tinged punk anthems. However, after hearing 2012 album Local Business’s choice words for the music industry, and then reading about frontman Patrick Stickles’ well-documented struggles with mental illness, it was hard not to worry that Titus Andronicus was tapped out and done with it all. Then, this July saw the release of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, a 95-minute and 5-act confessional rock opera loosely based on Stickles’ experience with manic depression. Thankfully, the record and its accompanying “TMLT Around the World Tour” – stopping in Montreal at Bar “Le Ritz” P.D.B. – prove that Titus Andronicus still have something to say after all this time.

If Titus’ career has been about discovering new ways to use rock-and-roll for opening up and letting loose, the evening’s introductory acts felt a bit like earlier steps in this ongoing evolution. Up first was Baked, from Brooklyn, a very young-looking 5-piece that sounds just like their name might suggest. With their hazy brand of indie rock (sounding something like Pavement on a permanent hangover), the band’s laissez-faire vocals did a good job of setting an appropriate slacker vibe for the crowds trickling in. Frontman R.J. Gordon’s utilitarian approach to singing turned out to be a nice bait-and-switch, however, serving as a means to get to the sweet jams, where the band really cooks and starts to visibly have more fun. Despite keyboardist’s Isabella Mingione’s beautiful harmonies and solo turns on a couple of songs, Baked still seems a little constrained by conventional song structure – and I can only hope they continue to channel the energy of their instrumental rock-outs into the whole package.

Having no apparent problem with energy was Chapel Hill 4-piece Spider Bags, Titus Andronicus’ recent label-mates on Merge Records. After sound-checking with a quick acapella recitation of Captain Beefheart’s “Bat Chain Puller”, it was clear Le Ritz was in for a treat – something that was confirmed when frontman Dan McGee started playing his little electric guitar, simultaneously punk and cute. Stringing together multiple sections of amped-up punk rock in just one song, Spider Bags come off as a Parquet Courts fronted by Ted Leo, leading the way with behind-the-neck guitar heroics and Toronto-bashing crowd-work. Even with static names like “Standing on a Curb”, Spider Bags’ songs all feel like they’re going somewhere, musically. Though the lyrical content might have been hard to discern (except for dream journal “Cop Dream, Black Eye”), momentum seems as if it’s been built into the band’s DNA, constantly pushing ahead through rockabilly shreds, wandering solos, and driving 60’s spy riffs to end with single “Eyes of Death”.

Finally, focusing their raw power into a clear lyrical and narrative purpose came Glen Rock’s Titus Andronicus, a band that has continually marched the literate punk rock of songs with titles like “Upon Viewing Bruegel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’” toward the realm of the personal since 2008. Fronting a 4-piece backing band on this tour, Stickles seemed to be in a cautiously gregarious mood, providing the introductory advice for potential moshers to avoid the “rugged American individualism” of unsafe elbow-throwing, and to remember to be “the selfless Canadians we dream about down in the States”. This led into the set’s first track, “A Pot in Which to Piss”, a nearly 10 minute epic that moves gradually from dreamy lament to fist-pumping survival anthem, name-dropping Spider Bags’ Dan McGee somewhere in between.

Throughout the set, which nicely balanced songs from the middle portions of TMLT (“I Lost My Mind”, “Lonely Boy”) with older cuts (“My Time Outside The Womb”, “In a Small Body”), Stickles wasn’t afraid to be his own nervy self. Trying to keep a lid on crowd-surfing audience members with a partially tongue-in-cheek “you’re scaring me,” Stickles then determined that “the only antidote is to get super-vulnerable,” jumping into the closer from 2008’s Seinfeld-referencing The Airing of Grievances, “Albert Camus”. To their credit, the crowd did seem to take his advice to heart from thereon out, doing their best to respect the guitarist-vocalist for opening up to them by enjoying the show responsibly – all the way through to the set-ending one-two triumph of the Civil War-themed “A More Perfect Union” and “Titus Andronicus Forever”. Although I was once scared that the New Jersey heroes might pack it in for good, it was a hell of a relief to see that they still haven’t run out of things to say, and that they’re bringing some newer bands along for the ride. Titus Andronicus Forever, indeed.

Review – Dan Corber

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