Thursday, 9 June 2016

993 TITUS ANDRONICUS, Esuma, Bad Vibes, Cardiff Gwdihw Café Bar, Wednesday 8th June 2016

The Mighty Titus Andronicus, in a venue about the size of my living room, on the hottest night of the year? Hoo boy… at the very least, this one’s going to get seriously sweaty…!

I picked up on this one on Facebook, and after checking with Cardiff resident Craig, some barely-believable details emerged, the gig being organised by a local Titus Andronicus devotee, in a venue which purported to be the size of a shoebox. Wow! Well, since their 2010 album “The Monitor” had utterly blown me away with its’ violent collision of vicious stomping punk rock, wordy literary subject matter referencing the American Civil War and general class struggles, and anthemic widescreen tuneage, causing me to proclaim it as pretty much the best album I’d heard all century (yes, I did say century), Titus Andronicus, in various guises, had become a similarly thrilling and visceral “live” staple of mine. So I wasn’t missing this potentially landmark manic evening out, booking a ticket quickly.

Craig managed to sort himself a ticket as well, so a sticky and close afternoon saw me heading off down the M4 and across the border, meeting up with Craig at his place just after 6. Long-overdue catching up with my old friend ensued, and plans were confirmed for an overnight stop, before we headed off into town, parking up at Professor Gurney’s grandiose work establishment and wandering through the city centre to this brightly painted and bohemian venue, ironically across the road from the cavernous Motorpoint Arena. Sure enough, it was minuscule, the main room actually being similar in size and orientation to my living room, the stage being more of a corner step to the front left of the boarded front window. My initially impressions were that you could probably shoehorn about 100 punters in, if they were packed like sardines…!

Sought open air refuge in the outside yet tarpaulin-covered beer garden, where Craig pointed out the neighbouring Cardiff Prison (oh lordy…), before we wandered in for openers Bad Vibes. Kind of wished I hadn’t, as they played an incoherent, shouty Nu-Metal mess, with screaming vocals delivered by the bastard son of Hermann Munster and Den Hegarty of 70’s rockers Darts. Decamped in short order to the beer garden as my ears are too delicate for this ham-fisted, clumsy and occasionally out of tune malarkey. Good thing their set was short! Esuna, next up, were a better proposition, albeit a very schizophrenic bunch, often straddling diametrically opposed musical genres in the space of half a song, and smothering what started off as either pleasantly meandering indie numbers or Manics-style anthems with hobnail-booted Sabbath style old school HM riffery. Still, the (initially) Tranmere Rovers-shirted drummer and clear bandleader was a hard-hitting and entertaining “live” presence, at least...

After another sojourn into the beer garden, we squeezed our way back in, Craig pitching up halfway back as I squeezed my way further forward, initially stage right, for the entrance of the 4-piece (for tonight) Titus Andronicus just before 10. “This is our first time in Wales – we’ve been dreaming of this moment for years and now it’s finally here,” quipped the angular, heavily bearded vocalist Patrick Stickles, tongue firmly in cheek and eliciting a chortle from the assemblage, Stickles then going on to warn us, “when we kick in with the rocking, just try and be careful – there’s potential for misadventures!”

Well, we couldn’t say we weren’t warned… the opening plaintive bars of “No Future Part Three” then burst into frenzied, roaring life, the pounding militaristic drum rolls powering the rock, as Stickles brandished his guitar like a broadsword, his conviction already clear-eyed and scarily intense, and I at least responded in kind, rocking out from the get-go, and fist-pumping the air to the all-inclusive and almost ironically joyful repetitive terrace chant hook outro of, “you will always… be a LOSER!” The eponymous and “White Riot”-alike “Titus Andronicus” was next up, one anthemic hook replaced with another (this time of, “your life is OVER!”), and it was clear that we were in for a very special evening, where audience and band combine into one, singular of purpose, revelling in the unifying power of rock’n’roll.

Titus Andronicus were utterly on fire tonight. The strident bluesy strut of “Mr. E Mann”, the skyscraping hook of “Fired Up”, and the crazed, wide-eyed hurtling punk rock thrill ride of “Dimed Out”, all prime cuts from the sprawling recent “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” double CD, were an awe-inspiring mid-set triple whammy. The band were totally in their stride by now, nary pausing for breath or a chance for the audience to even applaud before racing into the next, and by this time I’d wormed my way to front and centre, battering away for all I was worth (whilst keeping my feet planted and my dodgy knees soft!), leading the charge, immersed in the moment, completely lost in this magnificent, raw, ragged, strident, thrilling and utterly euphoric performance from this very special and unique band of ruffians. Following the Jagger-esque peacock strut of “Fatal Flaw” the band finally took a breather, Stickles thanking the promoter for, “inviting us to play here at… I’m not even going to try to pronounce it! “The Owl!” We’ve got those in America but they’re endangered!” then announcing a final couple of numbers…

The menacing jangle of the bilious, dramatic epic “The Battle Of Hampton Roads” kicked into life and the place went batshit crazy, almost impossibly finding new levels of frenzy as the song powered through the gears, swooping and tempo changing throughout its 14 minute plus duration, as I hung on down the front, backing the crowd up as best I could, lest we all collapse onstage into the band. Then, as if to demonstrate that even higher levels of magnificence could be achieved, “A More Perfect Union” threatened to unmoor this tiny café bar from its’ foundations, changing pace from manic careering punk rock to all-inclusive swayalong (“Rally ‘round the flag,” indeed!). An utterly fitting way to end an astonishing performance, Titus Andronicus surprising us all by reaching even higher levels of raw, visceral “live” brilliance, eclipsing even their own high standards. Holy fuck, what a show!

Suffice to say, we all needed to pause for breath in the immediate aftermath. I, drenched (Full Cleo! Yay!) and elated, chatted with Craig, the promoter and passing bassist RJ Gordon. I then noticed Patrick Stickles head down the road past his van, and after an appropriate time (at which point his fellow band members were asking of his whereabouts), I wandered down, discovering him sat in the corner of the car park opposite, collecting his thoughts after his performance, which had clearly taken its’ toll, requiring a prodigious level of commitment from him. We walked back to the venue as he composed himself, the two of us enjoying a brief chat about Crass and particularly the song “Big”A” Little “A””, before I took the opportunity for a pic, and Craig and I hit the road back to his place after an utterly epic night.

Big breakfast in the pub opposite and a brief shopping excursion in Cardiff before heading home at lunchtime the next day. This one was truly one of the greats; an utterly stellar performance from The Mighty Titus Andronicus!

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