TITUS ANDRONICUS PLAY 3 NIGHT REQUIEM FOR MAXWELL’S (6/15/13)
by Kate Leib on August 2, 2013
Posted in: Concert, My Shows, Punk, Rock, Show Review
“Are you from Mahwah?”
“No, but I am from New Jersey”
“Oh, you’re better than me then, I’m from Brooklyn.”
This is probably the only instance in which being from New Jersey has delivered me sincere humility and respect from a New Yorker, let alone some guy from Brooklyn. But in what kind of absurd universe could this conversation actually take place? Nowhere other than in the presence of New Jersey’s loudest and proudest punk rock band, Titus Andronicus (or Tinnitus Andronicus as my dad calls them). The dialogue went down during Titus’ penultimate show at Maxwell’s Bar & Grill in Hoboken, New Jersey. In June, the legendary music club announced that it would close for good at the end of July, ushering in a wave of last hurrah shows from artists like Titus Andronicus who hold Maxwell’s near to their hearts. The venue was named the third best club in America by Rolling Stone, and since the Bar & Grill opened up its tiny backroom for live performances in 1978, Maxwell’s has been the beating heart of the New Jersey live music scene, as well as the holy grail for New Jersey bands trying to make their name among the greats who have played there in the past.
No strangers to the Maxwell’s scene, Jersey born and bred band, Screaming Females, played a guitar-shredding, head-banging, microphone-deep-throating opening set before Titus Andronicus courtesy of sole female/lead screamer Marissa Paternoster and her two male band mates. I was positioned at the very front of Maxwell’s 200 capacity room with my Titus wing women, Emily, both of us bedecked in our matching, hand-stenciled “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” crop tops. The inquiring fellow from Brooklyn was aware of the fact that Jersey natives dominate the upper echelon of Titus Andronicus fandom, maintaining a status of local legitimacy and pride unmatched by out-of-staters. While the band originally hails from Glen Rock, NJ, over the years Titus Andronicus has changed a few band members and since relocated their base to the big city of New York. When they aren’t touring, the band spends most of their time hanging out at the recording studio and live venue, Shea Stadium BK in East Williamsburg. So I guess the fans from Brooklyn have their own slice of home to pump their fists about as well.
Though when the show starts with a self-titled punk anthem like “Titus Andronicus”, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how hard you try, all that matters is staying alive in the mosh pit. Right off the bat I see my friend Johnny bent over a speaker and the next second he’s been swallowed by the crowd. I look to my right and see my wing woman has lost the battle to a large, sweaty man attempting to climb on stage, presumably to fulfill his lifelong dream of stage diving at a concert. With a look of disgust she hurls him back from whence he came and we are once again reunited only to be ripped apart seconds later. I’m thrown forward into the stage. Patrick Stickles leans over and shouts, “YOUR LIFE IS OVER YOUR LIFE IS OVER YOUR LIFE IS OVER” 2 inches away from my face. I believe him.
In a miraculous feat of strength, we survived the first song and my arms remained in perpetual bowflex mode for the rest of the concert in order to fend of the encroaching crowd. After playing two more songs from their first LP, The Airing of Grievances, Titus jumped right into their New Jersey/Civil War anthem “A More Perfect Union”, and the crowd descended further into chaos, screaming every word.
After a rowdy start, Stickles gave a brief lesson of how to dance at a punk concert while still respecting those around you. He followed with a critical disclaimer, “You’re not gonna like what’s about to happen to you. What you’re about to go through isn’t the worst thing in the world” before launching into “Ecce Homo“, and then playing the rest of the Local Business album in its full-blown entirety. Stickles fittingly sported an electric blue lightning bolt guitar strap for the whole show, confirming that he is indeed “the electric man”, if you hadn’t already heard. Highlights included a fist-pumping, foot-stomping performance of “In a Big City” and the emotionally raw slow-burner, “Tried to Quit Smoking”.
After the Local Business segment, Eric Harm stepped away from the drums to show off his vocals for Titus Andronicus’ Record Store Day 12” B-side, “The Dog“. In keeping with the B-side theme, they followed with what could be Titus Andronicus’ most positive song ever “(I’ve Got a) Date Tonight” which was the first song of a four-part love story according to Stickles. As part of the narrative Titus played two new songs, one called “Fatal Flaw” about Stickles revealing his manic depression to a love interest, and the other is nameless but is purported to be about two star-crossed Irish immigrants attending a New Year’s Eve party in 1910, though I couldn’t make out any of the lyrics. Both songs are from Titus Andronicus’ fourth LP expected to be released November 2014 and rumored to be 30 songs long. I expect nothing less from a band that made a Civil War concept album. For the final song of the quartet, Titus Andronicus did a surprise cover of “My Best Friends Girl”, originally released by The Cars in 1978, the same year Maxwell’s opened.
After 35 years of independent, local business, the loss of Maxwell’s is just another indication of the changing nature of Hoboken and other communities in the metropolitan area. The owner cited difficulties in trying to run a business in a town increasingly in favor of sports bars and luxury condominiums. Though after trekking 12 blocks from the nearest parking lot to Maxwell’s in the 100 degree summer heat, it’s hard not to believe that the poor parking in Hoboken couldn’t have been a contributing factor in the club’s demise. Stickles said the venue’s closing is just “a consequence of the ever-rising tide of gentrification. Hoboken used to be a place for working-class people to live. Then artists came and created a community to support a space as legendary as Maxwell’s. Create enough of those amenities, and then the developers move in. Then the artists get priced out.” Titus Andronicus’ hero and America’s working class troubadour, Bruce Springsteen, shot his music video for “Glory Days” at Maxwell’s in 1985. When Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt aren’t hamming it up on Maxwell’s stage, the video makes subtle references to Hoboken’s own glory days as the birthplace of baseball. The first organized baseball game is believed to have taken place at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields in 1845, and wouldn’t you know it, Maxwell’s front door happens to stand on the site of said baseball field‘s former third base.
Maxwell’s namesake bears the memory of a formerly blue-collar Hoboken where the old Maxwell House Coffee Plant once stood and operated on the waterfront. The plant that provided 640 jobs was closed in 1992 and later demolished in 2003. The site is now occupied by a twelve story condominium. Titus Andronicus’ fellow garden state rocker Ted Leo said of the gentrification, “People sometimes paint the Hudson River as some ocean that divides New Jersey from New York, but the same things are happening all over. It’s happening in Brooklyn, and it’s happening in Hoboken.” So I guess New Jersey isn’t much “better” than Brooklyn after all.
As the show closed in on the 3-hour mark, Patrick Stickles began rambling about how he had a special “platonic” kind of “uncle” relationship with two girls in the audience that night. Emily nudged me with her elbow, but I refused to believe that it was us he was referring to. I tilted my thoroughly head banged neck up to hear him say, “The next song wasn’t even on our set list, but I saw the shirts and I said to Adam (the bassist), we have to play it.” Stickles proceeded to invite Emily and I on stage and dedicate the song “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” to us. My friend Johnny is still upset that we didn’t make him a crop top.
Titus Andronicus closed out their marathon set with two classics from The Monitor. The first was “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”, during which I was reunited with Johnny after losing him for the entire concert. He was dripping in sweat, chanting “you’ll always be a loser” back at the audience that had previously swallowed him whole. For their shows, it’s not easy for the band to replicate the piano, bagpipes, and crackly spoken word intros that made The Monitor such a unique, well-crafted album in the first place, but this is not to say it doesn’t translate well live. What they lack in backup instrumentation, Titus Andronicus fully make up with ample guitar shredding and innovative distortion pedal replicas of bagpipe solos and so on. Titus Andronicus closed with “The Battle of Hampton Roads”, the fourteen minute long epic finale to The Monitor. When the crowd finally cleared out and the distorted reverberations finally ceased long after the band had left the stage, I found that I had no voice, someone else’s blood on the back of my shirt, and a case of tinnitus andronicus ringing in my ears.
This whole concert was thoroughly a Maxwell’s moment. Aside from maybe a basement, I’ve never been to another venue where I feel closer to the band while they’re performing. I saw Kimya Dawson at Maxwell’s a few years ago and everybody sat on wooden floor the entire time and Kimya hung around after the show to chat. Definitely a different vibe than Titus Andronicus, but this is only indicative of the wide range of acts booked by Maxwell’s since it first opened. The tiny back room of Maxwell’s has seen legendary acts such as Nirvana, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, The Feelies, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pavement, and many other influential bands of the past three decades. According to Maxwell’s co-owner Todd Abramson, during one particular over capacity Replacements show it was so hot in the back room that chairs were melting, and after R.E.M. played a sweltering concert there in the mid 80s, guitarist Peter Buck payed for Maxwell’s to finally install an air conditioner.
Maxwell’s simplicity was the perfect environment for pure, unadorned rock n’ roll. Before shows performers would walk through the crowd instead of emerging from the backstage Maxwell’s never had. There were no VIP passes, metal bars, or security guards–no separation between the fans and the band besides a small platform stage raised about 2 feet off the ground. It’s a great venue with a lot of history, and I’m sad to see it go before I could fully appreciate all that it had to offer. There’s still hope that the void it leaves in the New Jersey music scene will be filled as quickly as we fill our landfills…but this July, it’s all about chanting, “here’s to the good times, here’s to the home team”, as we kiss Maxwell’s goodbye.
Titus Andronicus @ Maxwell’s 7/15/2013
Titus Andronicus; My Time Outside the Womb; Joset of Nazareth’s Blues; A More Perfect Union; Titus Andronicus Forever; Ecce Homo; Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter; Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus; Food Fight!; My Eating Disorder; Titus Andronicus Vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO); In a Big City; In a Small Body; (I Am the) Electric Man; Tried to Quit Smoking; The Dog; (I’ve Got a) Date Tonight; Fatal Flaw (New Song); Unknown Title (New Song); My Best Friend’s Girl (The Cars cover); Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ; No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future; The Battle Of Hampton Roads