Pop Music Review: Titus Andronicus at the Bootleg Theater

The New Jersey band puts a punked-up spin on the Civil War and other deep topics.

March 25, 2010|By Mikael Wood

"This is a song . . . ," Patrick Stickles said Tuesday night at the Bootleg Theater, and then he stopped. The frontman of New Jersey's Titus Andronicus appeared to be searching for a way to introduce "The Battle of Hampton Roads," the closing track from his band's ambitious, buzzed-about new album, "The Monitor," but the words weren't coming. So, instead, the singer turned around and began strumming his guitar, content to let his half-finished exegesis become a simple statement of fact.

You can't really blame the guy for coming up short: "The Battle of Hampton Roads" isn't easily condensed into the stuff of sound-bite stage banter. It's a song (if I may give it a try) about coming to terms with where you come from and whom you're destined to be, and about how the distance between those two ideas seems to change with age.

Oh, and it's also about the Civil War.

"The Monitor" is drunk with words and allusions (illusions too), and on Tuesday, Stickles seemed determined to prove that his performative energy matched his intellectual rigor.

Titus Andronicus ripped through songs from "The Monitor" and its 2008 debut, "The Airing of Grievances," with a breakneck propulsion that still didn't seem speedy enough for Stickles: As soon as the band ended its opener, "A More Perfect Union," the singer motioned to drummer Eric Harm to kick off the next tune.

Later, near the end of its 80-minute set, the group extended "The Battle of Hampton Roads" with a round of punked-up military music before slamming into the new album's "Titus Andronicus Forever," in which Stickles somehow made a bit of war on terrorism agitprop -- "The enemy is everywhere" -- feel like an exuberant underground rallying cry.

"Let's make this the greatest Tuesday night of our lives," Stickles had urged at the start of the show, and regardless of whether he succeeded or not, the mock-heroic quality of his goal tells you a lot about who he is and where he comes from.

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