Titus Andronicus at the Bootleg Theater: 'The greatest Tuesday night of our lives'?
“This is a song…,” Patrick Stickles said Tuesday night at the Bootleg Theater, and then he stopped. The frontman of New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus appeared to be searching for a way to introduce “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” the closing track from his band’s ambitious, buzzed-about new album, “The Monitor,” but the words weren’t coming. So, instead, Stickles turned around and began strumming, content to let his half-finished exegesis become a simple statement of fact.
You can’t really blame the guy for coming up short: At nearly a quarter-hour in length on CD, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” isn’t easily condensed into the stuff of sound-bite stage banter. It’s a song (if I may give it a try) about coming to terms with where you come from and who you’re destined to be, and about how the distance between those two ideas seems to change with age.
Oh, and as its title suggests, it’s also about the Civil War.
“The things I used to love I have come to reject,” Stickles sings over the song’s roiling folk-punk groove. “The things I used to hate I have learned to accept.”
If that sounds like the basis of a zillion Bruce Springsteen tunes (minus the Civil War stuff), well, Stickles doesn’t disagree; he even gives the Boss a shout-out later in the song, right before he Jersey-fies a well-known line from Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
“The Monitor” is drunk with words and allusions (illusions too), and Tuesday at the Bootleg, Stickles seemed determined to prove that his performative energy matched his intellectual rigor. (True to its Garden State roots, the album is also drunk in a more literal sense; one of its most memorable tracks is called “Theme From ‘Cheers.’ ”)
Playing as a five-piece -- with Amy Klein and David Robbins adding violin and keyboard to the group’s appealingly disheveled sound — Titus Andronicus ripped through songs from “The Monitor” and its 2008 debut, “The Airing of Grievances,” with a breakneck propulsion that still didn’t seem speedy enough for Stickles: As soon as the band reached the end of its opener, “A More Perfect Union,” the singer hurriedly motioned to drummer Eric Harm to kick off the next tune.
During the song “Titus Andronicus,” Stickles climbed on top of one of the Bootleg’s public-address speakers and led the crowd in a rowdy singalong.
Later, near the end of its 80-minute set, the group extended “The Battle of Hampton Roads” with a round of punked-up military music before slamming into the new album’s “Titus Andronicus Forever,” in which Stickles somehow made a bit of War on Terror agitprop -- “The enemy is everywhere” -- feel like an exuberant underground rallying cry.
“Let’s make this the greatest Tuesday night of our lives,” Stickles had urged the band’s audience at the beginning of the show, and regardless of whether he succeeded or not, the mock-heroic quality of his goal tells you a lot about who he is and where he comes from.
-- Mikael Wood