Sunday, 6 February 2011

800 TITUS ANDRONICUS, Bravo Brave Bats, Bristol Cooler, Friday 19 November 2010

Another landmark gig reached; gig 800, and the hosts are Titus Andronicus, a New Jersey rabble who have whipped me up into a right old state this year with their wonderful album "The Monitor". A delicious and viciously barbed and skewed blend of bar-room blues rock, savage yet melodic terrace-chant punk and widescreen anthemic guitar soundscapes, with an literary lyricism reflecting the venom of the music, yet articulate and fascinating, referencing amongst other subjects the American Civil War and general class struggles through subsequent times, it's easily 2010's best. Seriously, I've not been this enthused and excited about a new band since discovering The Hold Steady 4 years back, so hopes were high, perhaps unfairly so, for this one. How could they live up to it "live"? How, indeed...

Hit the Cooler, a new and splendid scuzzy little venue halfway up the Park Street hill, at 8.30, after driving down late to Bristol and dumping the car in Trenchard's Level 10 (!). Titus Andronicus' bassist Ian Graetzer was manning the merch stand, so I had a brief chat and bought a t-shirt before local support Bravo Brave Bats came on at 8.45. An odd-looking 3-piece featuring a drummer/singer with a horrible red vest and a Movember 'tache, they nevertheless played a fast, furious and jagged set of powerful punky rock, recalling the likes of Mission Of Burma and Glitterbox, and kicked up a real storm in the process, the guitarist in particular abandoning the stage on more than one occasion to hurl himself through the crowd. Quite possibly the best new support I've seen this year, Bravo Brave Bats were the perfect hors d'oeuvres for Titus Andronicus, a point I made to the Alexei Sayle lookalike bassist afterwards.

I stayed down the front, stage right, for Titus Andronicus, on at 10 to 10 after a fiddly soundcheck. Heavily bearded and helium-voiced vocalist Patrick Stickles immediately kicked into the booming, bass-driven intro to "A More Perfect Union", and the packed moshpit went mental. Jacket quickly discarded, I joined in as their savage, jagged guitar overload attack ignited the crowd into a frenzy, and their anthemic material took on a soaring, euphoric and (oh yes) joyful quality "live". "Union"s intricate tempo changes flowed effortlessly, and the mosh joined in with the sing-along, Irish tinged hook of, "rally round the flag," the first uplifting and all-inclusive battle-cry of the night.

This, in fact, was the essence of their strident, powerful and kinetic performance tonight; an all-inclusive gang mentality, a real rapport and connection with their audience. A mid-set double of "No Future Part 3" with the hook of, "you will always be a loser!" and the subsequent "Titus Andronicus", introduced by Patrick as, "another one with a repeating refrain," this time the hook being, "your life is over!" resonated around this packed venue. My favourite, "The Battle Of Hampton Roads", a 14-minute epic with tempo changes and crescendos aplenty and a bilious, vengeful lyric ("when I smoke I will smoke gaping holes in my chest, when I scream I will scream till I'm gasping for breath") was brilliant, and a frenzied, amphetamine fast Misfits cover revealed the band's punk roots. A final "Four Score And Seven" rounded off an awesome, magnificent performance, with band and audience having poured all of themselves into it, leaving us all sweat-drenched and elated.

As good was to come afterwards when, acting on a promise from bass player Ian beforehand, drummer Eric Harm wrote out a set-list especially for me! It appears they don't normally use one, underlining the "working without a safety net" aspect of their live shows, so hey, that's a collector's item! Effusive congrats afterwards with the band before I reluctantly drew this one to a close and poured my sweaty self (full Cleo! Result!) into the chill Bristol night. Call off the dogs, the search is over, the Mighty Titus Andronicus tonight delivered the 2010 Gig Of The Year. What a way to celebrate No. 800!

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