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Troy Sherman/Sun Arts & Entertainment Editor

March 24, 2016

You’ll Always Be a Loser: Titus Andronicus at the Haunt

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Titus Andronicus play their own music to warm up the crowd. This is fitting; Titus Andronicus don’t seem scared of over-indulgence. Their breakthrough album was 2010’s The Monitor, an hour-long kitchen-sink explosion of punk riffs, honky-tonk piano, a bagpipe solo and lyrics that used the American Civil War as a metaphor for personal strife and alienation. Their latest album manages to surpass The Monitor in grandiosity; 2015’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy runs an hour and a half long with several intermission tracks and two tracks titled “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant” and “No Future Part V: In Endless Dreaming.”

Luckily, Titus Andronicus balance the pretension of their album formats with unpretentiously great songs. At their best, they meld arena-rock riffs with a ferocious punk attack. Stickles’s lyrics are clever, full of allusions to history and music and almost relentlessly pessimistic; but even at their most anguished, the music remains dynamic and exhilarating. Their ability to balance melody equally with chaotic drive keeps their live show entertaining even for those who don’t know the band’s music. Former Arts editor Jael Goldfine ’17 wasn’t familiar with their music, and still really enjoyed the show. Current Arts editor Troy Sherman ’18, on the other hand, described himself as “bored” during the show, but considered spending up to $25 on a vinyl copy of their newest album at the merch booth afterwards, so you can see that they provoke complex reactions.

Craig Finn of the Hold Steady serves as the opener on the current “No Faith No Future No Problem” tour, and provides a nice counterpoint to the relentlessness of Titus’s music. His songs are much more measured, languishing in wry lyrics like “the hard drugs are for the bartenders and the kitchen workers and the bartenders’ friends” and lyrical truisms like “certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls.” He’s the ultimate everyman performer, which fit nicely with the Haunt’s atmosphere, where performers often mill around during other performers’ sets like both Finn and Stickles did.

Titus showed a lighter, more playful side at the Haunt. Stickles tried to hawk the “triple-LP quadruple gatefold” record at the merch booth, and wished bassist Julian Veronesi a happy birthday by playing a distorted “Happy Birthday” on his guitar and telling him something like “You’re as good a bass player as you are nice to hang out with, and the haircut you got two weeks ago still looks great,” which sounded more sincere than ironic. The songs they played, on the other hand, were their leanest, most forceful and most anthemic. In the studio, they sound like many different bands; live, they sound like one.

Titus gave a cathartic show, and deserved the enthusiastic mosh pit of mostly young males that grew throughout it. It was a memorable sight to see these guys yelling euphorically along to the songs’ refrains, which are often bleak: “Let me show you my fatal flaw,” “You’ll always be a loser” and “Your life is over.”

Most punk fans agree that punk is dead, or at least that its best moments came decades ago. Titus Andronicus don’t play like inheritors of a strand of hardcore punk musicians that valued brevity and unalloyed sonic assault, and sneered at any hint of musical pretension. The band they recall most is The Clash in its early career, one of the first punk bands to straddle genres and experiment with complex musical arrangements and lyrics. Fucked Up, Titus’s colleagues among the most innovative and exciting current punk bands, also make go-for-broke grandiose statements: 2010’s David Comes to Life was an 80-minute rock opera with mostly indecipherable lyrics and lavishly layered guitars. The fact that both Titus Andronicus and Fucked Up have made a lengthy rock opera within the last few years says something about the current state of punk, a genre that formed originally in opposition to the excesses of prog and stadium rock. These bands value earnestness over cynicism, and are unafraid of tripping over their ambition. I think this is what the kids moshing to Titus Andronicus love most about them.
Jack Jones is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jackjones@cornellsun.com.

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