The hosts of my 800th gig, the ball-crushingly epic Bristol Cooler show in 2010, return for my 881st! Confrontational New Jersey noiseniks Titus Andronicus, who since their magnificent, sprawling epic 2010 CD Of the Year “The Monitor”, then announced a distillation of the widescreen series of players on record and the leaner, punkier core tour grouping into one 6-piece band going forward (don’t ask me either, that’s new millennial punk rock for you…), subsequently releasing a thematically wider-ranging, less “concept”-y and fine-but-nowhere-near-as-good follow-up in 2012’s “Local Business”. Honestly, I hardly expected any follow-up to be a patch on “The Monitor” (which is easily in the Top 3 of my favourite albums of this whole damn Century…), otherwise we’d be talking about quite possibly the greatest rock’n’roll band in the history of forever. Lightning really doesn’t strike twice in that way.
Nevertheless, whilst accepting “The Monitor” was a one-off and adjusting my expectations accordingly, we still have a damn fine, committed and visceral punk band, and one capable of touching some serious heights in the “live” environment. So, despite their status as support here to similarly minded post-hardcore ruffians Fucked Up, I snapped up a ticket for this one over Christmas (!), and 5 months later found myself hurtling down the M4 early doors on the hottest day of the year so far, anticipating an early showing from Patrick Stickles and the boys. I wasn’t wrong, I discovered, as I parked up at 7.40 in a new spot behind The Fleece, in sight of both the river and the Seven Stars pub next to the venue; Merz were just rounding off their opening set, and according to the running order on the door, Titus Andronicus were due on at 8! Yipe !
So I wandered down the front in anticipation of an early start and sure enough, the band came on to set up at 10 to 8, the now-beardless Patrick opening up an equipment case to reveal a quite bewildering array of effects pedals. This however precipitated a lengthy and interminable equipment check, as Patrick struggled to get the correct pedal chain set-up, at one point responding to a hurry-up from a roadie with an exasperated, “what do you think I’m trying to do???” At what point, I wondered as the time ticked on, does he just say, fuck it and start the gig as is?
We eventually got started just after 20 past, Patrick announcing, “we’re back! Just not for as long as we thought,” some pre-set between band discussions having centred around which songs to cut to save time (oops…). However, from the savage opening riff of “A More Perfect Union”, the wait was worth it. The sound was messy but the band were totally “on it” with as intense, kinetic and passionate a performance as possible. The swoops, sweeps and tempo changes of this punked-up version were brilliantly rendered with just the right amount of ragged edge, and the crowd responded with a strident singalong of the “rally round the flag” hook. Brilliant, breathless opening!
“We’ve had to cut a few but we’re not cutting this one,” announced Patrick for “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus”, which was again raw, ragged, unbelievably loud and the utter essence of punk rock, rising titanically over the (relatively) muted version on “Local Business”. Another from that album followed in a thrilling amphetamine rush, before Patrick amazingly, turned to me (right down the front, remember…) and said, “you’ve got a Hold Steady t-shirt on, you look trustworthy,” then promptly handed me a Canon camcorder and asked me to film the band! Crikey!
I then juggled trying to film them and bits of the crowd as best I could (sorry if there’s a bit too much ceiling, chaps…) whilst freaking out to the rest of the set, which due to cuts comprised of an amazing, vengeful and venomous “Battle Of Hampton Roads”, a by-now bare-chested Patrick fitting more ire and brilliantly articulated righteous fury into its’ 14 minutes than most so-called current “punk” bands do into their entire careers, then a final, fitting “Titus Andronicus Forever”, to close, the crowd circling me chanting, “the enemy is everywhere!” as one. A more intense, angry, violent, joyful, all-inclusive half-hour’s rock I’ll be hard pushed to experience this year. Wow. Just… wow.
And Wow more afterwards, as I ran into a very articulate and friendly Patrick afterwards, who insisted on buying me a drink as thanks for my shaky camera work. Enjoyed a chat with a lovely bloke with a real sense of history for his chosen art (illustrated perfectly by a Crass tattoo worn on his shoulder) and a passion for doing it his and their way, with no compromise. Rock’n’roll needs more Patrick Stickles. No doubt.
Fucked Up had no chance after that, so I left their (comparatively) inarticulate howl of a set to the devotees, and I drove home after another momentous and memorable experience in the company of The Mighty Titus Andronicus!