“Off down to Bristol to that there Dirty Boat tonight, to see The Mighty Titus Andronicus. They turn it on the way they can, and they might just sink the fucker...”
That was my Facebook massage as I set off for this one tonight, to the Thekla indeed, for an evening of visceral, confrontational amped-up, cranked-up bar-room blues/ punk rock crash collision from Titus Andronicus, purveyors of the stunning, ragged yet literary, spontaneous yet cerebral, and just mind-blowingly awesome 2010 album “The Monitor”, which sounded for all and sundry as if the American Civil War had taken place in 1976 Max’s Kansas City or the ’77 Kings Road. This time, however, Patrick Stickles and his band of troubadour ruffians are touring current release “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”, a 29 track, 93 minute sprawling epic, documenting Stickles’ own transition into his 30’s with raw, ragged-arsed punk, blues, swagger and attitude aplenty. Don’t do things by halves, these boys…
A Titus Andronicus gig is a pretty essential thing for me, so I booked a ticket for this one ASAP and found myself driving down an M4 festooned with fireworks either side from various local displays, expecting some musical pyrotechnics of my own on the Dirty Boat! Parked up about ¼ to 8 and wandered past the band’s tour van, noticing Mr. Stickles rummaging through various piles for his tour shirt; “got to look the same in all the photos!” Had a brief chat with this most personable of vocalists, recalling my previous TA gigs and remarking that this was gig 966 for me. “You’re a dedicated patron of the arts!” was his response. Nice! I therefore only caught one number of support Washington Irving, actually a 5-piece guitar-dominated combo with some shimmering and dramatic guitar noise embellishing their finale.
As Frank Sinatra played on the PA, the place filled up notably and I took my place at the front, stage left next to the keyboardist set-up (more on him later), as the atmosphere became palpably anticipatory and the stage became enveloped in a pink haze. Stickles and keyboardist Elio DeLuca wandered onstage, almost absent-mindedly, reciprocating the cheers with a semi-startled wave… “We’re on a boat! We normally wouldn’t rock the boat, but tonight we’re gonna do just that,” he remarked, before advising us to not go too crazy as “we’re all in the same boat!” Opener “Icarus” eased in like a lamb, slow-burn and polite, then turned into a triumphant sticky-floor bar-room romp when the rest of the band took the stage. This pretty much set the tone for the early set – the wide-eyed Stickles rampaged through a half-dozen numbers in quickfire succession, the band enthusiastically and kinetically backing him up with a strut and a swagger. I loved the synchronised rawk steps during “Fatal Flaw”, and the beer-soaked Irish tinge to “Come On Siobhan”, then when the boys finally stopped for breath, a half-hour in, Stickles continued his punning routine; “it’s been 100% fog machines on this tour! You British like your fog – why it’s not more common in America… I haven’t the foggiest idea!” Groan!
Back onto the rock, and a couple of numbers later, the menacing drumbeat of “A More Perfect Union”, the fantastic, epic, widescreen and sprawling opener from “The Monitor”, kicked off, and the place went utterly batshit crazy. “Union” was awesome, lying waste to the Thekla with its’ skyscraping terrace chant hooks and venomous bile and indignation, then “Titus Andronicus Forever” completed a double whammy, the presciently prophetic hook chant of “the enemy is everywhere!” being delivered both punk rock and boogie woogie piano style.
“A Pot In Which To Piss” was also magnificent, kicking off as a tortured lament before crunching into a pounding, almost rockabilly backbeat with some Buddy Holly-like harmonies from appropriately bespectacled bassist Julian Veronesi. The almost Dickies-like amphetamine thrash-punk of newie “Dimed Out” followed, before another terrace chant double to close the set; “No Future Part Three”’s military drumbeat and tortured confessional giving way to the repeating closing chant of, “you will always be a loser!”, then the eponymous “Titus Andronicus”, kicking off with a savage riff recalling The Clash’s “White Riot” and closing out with another repeating chant, this time, “your life is over!”. Simply brilliant stuff, the essence of raw, visceral rock and roll delivered triumphantly with style and justified swagger.
We weren’t letting them go that easily though; despite the stage lights going up and PA music kicking in again, the repeated encore clamours enticed the band back on for a powerful, strutting version of “Brown Sugar” which the heavily bearded Stickles delivered, shirtless and soaked with sweat, underlining the shift he’d put in. And that wasn’t it for me either – after grabbing a couple of lists for myself and a fellow punter, I hung back afterwards, patience being rewarded outside with another chat with Stickles and the band, mutual compliments and signed set lists. As if more was needed, the icing on the cake was a lengthy chat with keyboardist Elio DeLuca, an expat Bostonian and friend to the likes of Corin Ashley, The Sheila Divine and… The Gravel Pit. “In that case, I’ve got something to show you,” I said as I rolled up my sleeve to reveal my TGP tattoo to another incredulous response!
Eventually, I reluctantly dragged myself away and headed home, following another triumphant, euphoric performance from one of the greatest “live” acts currently treading the boards. Titus Andronicus… they didn’t quite sink the fucker, but they certainly laid waste to The Thekla tonight. Awesome stuff – Titus Andronicus Forever!