Sunday, April 4, 2010

Contenders Series #23: Titus Andronicus - "A More Perfect Union"

So I go to a lot of concerts.  They are pretty much the entirety of my social life, and yes, it IS kinda sad that I consider standing in a large group with strangers (and Ilana!) a social life.  I spend a disproportionate amount of my salary on concert tickets (just got Morning Benders/Broken Bells, May 21 @ the Regency Grand Ballroom ... come with!)  And I also have a music blog.  You would think I would blog more about my concert experiences.  For some reason, though ... I don't.

Mostly, the problem is that I'll think of something semi-interesting at a show, and then just forget about it by the time I get in front of a computer.  I'm just not ready yet to be that guy taking notes at a concert.  The other problem is that I'm trying to move this blog in the direction of more long-form, essay-style writing, and any concert post I did would likely be a series of bullet points describing ironic t-shirts I saw.

So that being said, let's try a concert recap post.  I only went to four concerts in March (Is that right?  Maybe it just seemed like more), so maybe this won't be too long.*

* It will.

March 5 - Tegan and Sara at the Fox Theater, Oakland

Not on the concert calendar, kind of an impulse show, a guy I work with had extra tickets.  The Fox is a solid venue, the only downside being that it's in Oakland, though it's right off the BART line, so it's not really a lot harder to get to.  That being said, we drove.  Similar to the Warfield in both size and architecture (and, in my opinion, a little below-average sound), the Fox has been lining up some great bands over the last year or so (we've seen TV on the Radio and the Pixies there recently, with The National and the New Pornographers coming up this summer).  The Warfield, meanwhile, will have both 3OH!3 and the Insane Clown Posse in the space of one week.  Both those shows will probably sell out, so I can't hate too much, but it should be noted that they've obviously given up on booking Shows Aaron Would Want to See.

Tegan and Sara's fans are the reason stereotypes exist.  Though the band has tried to downplay their personal lives, and have always bristled at being tagged as "the lesbian sisters" band in the media, well ... their fan base is still about 95% lesbian,* and a very specific subset of short-haired, flannel-wearing, pixie-ish, probably-Canadian lesbians.  I would have bet that you couldn't fill a medium-to-large sized theater with exclusively members of that subculture, but ... I would have been wrong.

*And before anyone accuses me of jumping to conclusions about the sexual orientations of strangers ... there was a LOT of making out and low-level groping going on.  This was a concert for lovers.  I am not GUESSING about anything here.

All in all, a fine show, nothing exceptionally memorable about it.  I have to say that I really enjoy it when you can hear the entire audience singing along with certain songs.  I know that got played out during the Dashboard Confessional years, and basically became a parody of itself with the emo kids, but I think it's still fun.  Nice to see people enjoying themselves.

March 9 - Little Boots at the Fillmore, San Francisco

Three things about this one:

(1)  Like all venues, the Fillmore plays music over the loudspeakers between bands.  Unlike most other venues, they play this between-act music at incredible volume, possibly louder than the actual bands.  This is bad news if you were planning on having conversations between sets, but if you're like me, and you occasionally like listening to music really REALLY loud, it's a good chance to fry your ears a little bit.  Music has a markedly different effect on me at different volumes.  Sometimes it doesn't really hit me (in the metaphorical sense) unless it actually hits me (in terms of literal sound waves).*

*Two examples of songs I didn't really like until I heard them on weapons-grade speakers are "One Life Stand" by Hot Chip and "Hollywood" by Marina and the Diamonds**

** I'll probably write a post about Marina and the Diamonds at some point.  If I don't, the main theme of that post would have been:  "Marina and the Diamonds somehow wrote two songs which have sections that I love, and sections that I cannot stand.  So ... do I like those songs, or not?  I have no idea."

(2)  The Fillmore, of course, is famous for their free concert posters.  Some guy on Facebook has a bunch of them online.  I could look at them all day.  However, not every show has a poster.  It's always a nice surprise to see the ushers handing them out as you leave.  So, Little Boots, if you give a whole little speech between songs about how you and your brother used to love looking at Fillmore posters when you were young, and how it's such an honor to finally be on that stage ... well, people are going to expect a poster.

But then you didn't have a poster ... did you?  So this was a disappointment.

(3)  March 9 was a Tuesday.  Now that I have this job, I have to work on Wednesdays.  And, since we live in one of the most expensive cities in America, I assume the majority of people who can afford to live in San Francisco, and can afford to buy concert tickets ... I assume the majority of those people have jobs.

So, when you see people who are just blacked-out drunk or zoned out on drugs I've probably never even heard of ... on a Tuesday night ... well, I take my hat off to those people.  Either they are still somehow going to make it to work on Wednesday morning, in which case they are warriors, or they have worked out some kind of lifestyle by which they don't have to work at all, in which case they are much smarter than me.  This show hit near-record levels of both (1) people who should be on LATFH and (2) people who were so unbelievably altered that just standing up was a constant challenge.  And good for those people.

March 25 - Freelance Whales/Bear in Heaven/Cymbals Eat Guitars at Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco

Logistically, this was a strange show.  Of the three bands, headliner Cymbals Eat Guitars probably garners the most critical acclaim, and middle band Bear in Heaven is also Pitchfork-approved, but opener Freelance Whales has become the most popular of the three in blog-rock circles.*  And so the show sold out well in advance (Ilana and I debated selling our $12 tickets when we saw people on Craigslist offering $100 for two), and it was basically full by the time the Whales came on, which was early.  At the same time, this was the night of the instant-classic Kansas State-Xavier game, and I was proud to see so many hipster dudes secretly checking the score on their iPhones.  Hipsters:  some are human after all.

* To the point where many in the blogosphere consider them over-hyped.  Think about that.  Here's a band that's the opening act ... on a three-band bill ... at probably the eighth or ninth-largest venue in San Francisco.  Over-hyped.  Honestly.  Go outside and ask people if they've ever heard of Freelance Whales.  You'll be out there all night.  And yet ... over-hyped.  I will never understand the internet.

Ilana and I are not cool.  We were there to see Freelance Whales, not the two "better" bands.  We stuck around for most of Bear in Heaven's set (I do really enjoy their album, and we both enjoyed the fact that every member of the band had a serious, serious mustache), but we took off before Cymbals Eat Guitars (had to get back home to watch more episodes of The Wire ... there's kind of an empty feeling now that we don't have that show dictating our lives anymore).

And Freelance Whales put on an excellent show.  Every time I worry about a band being a little too cutesy to be good live, they always impress.  The added energy of the live setting really helped their songs.  Ilana got her coveted seat on the ledge to the right of the stage,* and everyone was happy.  Furthermore, I agree with the band's decision to basically play their album in order, start to finish.  It makes sense, if you're a new band, with only one album.  You obviously put a lot of thought into the sequencing for your album.  Why change it up in a live setting?

* As soon as she sits up there, a handful of girls join her, but she's always the first to do it.  A real pioneer, that girl.

Finally, the girl multi-instrumentalist in Freelance Whales wore a Cymbals Eat Guitars shirt during the show.  As everyone* knows, it would be incredibly uncool to wear you own band's t-shirt during the show.  However, I don't think there is a conventional wisdom to wearing the shirt of a tour-mate.  Ilana signed off on it, but pointed out that it would be cooler if it were the headliner wearing the shirt of the opening band.  And, of course, three days later, the keyboard player for Titus Andronicus was wearing the opening band's t-shirt.  We have our finger on the pulse of rock and roll culture!

*Well, I mean ... everyone who has seen Can't Hardly Wait.

March 29 - Titus Andronicus at Slim's, San Francisco

This was my favorite show of the four* just for the profound weirdness of it.  And weirdness isn't quite the right word there.  Sadness doesn't work, either.  Or desperation.  Something.  It would be a word with a negative connotation, but I'd like to be using it in the sense that it was very visceral.  We were seeing the lead singer's life up there on stage, not some pre-packaged rock star, but a dude with some problems.  Frayed might be right.  Something beautiful, unraveling.

*Though not Ilana's ... I'm guessing she would rank it third, ahead of Tegan and Sara.

Spinner covered most of the details of the evening, but I feel like more needs to be said.  This was not just about impromptu discussions of depression and pharmaceuticals.  This was an edgy, half-full Sunday night show, a polar opposite of Thursday night.  The audience seemed composed largely of hard-core fans, reverently quite between songs to the point of awkwardness.

And it was just so weird to see this band ... struggling.  The near-unanimous praise for The Monitor creates the impression of a band who's Made It, but I guess the truth is that it's nice if a bunch of dudes with blogs like your album, but it really doesn't make your life all that different.

You still have to play half-full shows on Sunday nights thousands of miles away from home.  You have to deal with sound issues and legal battles that have nothing to do with you.  Your keyboard player is probably wearing the t-shirt of the opening band because he doesn't have any other shirts.  And you don't even have a place to stay.

For me, this was the starkest detail of the show.  The lead singer gave the usual "stop by the merch table" speech, then paused, obviously somewhat embarrassed, before asking the audience if anyone had a place for them to stay.  No joke.  Luckily, after the show, I overheard one guy telling the bass player that he managed a building in Oakland, and that he had an open four-bedroom the band could use.  Awesome.

If we get beyond the details of the show, though, the music speaks for itself.  The Monitor is a great album.  It is really ... really good.  When I'm not listening to it, I actively think about how I wish I was listening to it.  Hold Steady comparisons are inevitable, but this is a more tortured band that writes concept albums about the Civil War (kind of).*  Three of the four best songs on the album are mini-epics, checking in at 7 minutes plus, songs that probably could have been split into two or three distinct and fully-formed songs, but the band released a video for "A More Perfect Union" that captures the best three and a half minutes of that one, and if you've read this far, you owe it to yourself to watch it.

* And The Monitor features a guest spot from Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn as "The Voice of Walt Whitman."  Now that's the role of a lifetime.

If you like it, check out the full song.  And, maybe, if you really like, let Titus Andronicus crash on your couch.

Download:  Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union

Official Site
Hype Machine
Buy The Monitor


  1. In the spirit of me hating music today, I really dislike Titus Andronicus. That could change (but it won't.)

    Freelance Whales however... That's the shit.

  2. "Ilana and I are not cool." HOW DARE YOU?! I've been fooling people for years then you just go ahead and tell them the truth?