"Good night, good luck, and four more years!" said Patrick Stickles as he high-fived fans from the stage as Titus Andronicus wrapped up a solid set that ran almost two hours.
The night wasn't as political as it could have been, both bands only briefly touched on the election. The show wasn't the least bit preachy, and the artists stuck to the music-- and lots of it, which is all last night's audience could have asked for.
One of my biggest concerns about last night ended up being sort of true--the election was pretty distracting. I kept telling myself that I'd leave the house "in 30 minutes" and before I knew it, Oregon and Ohio came through, and Obama was re-elected. After watching Fox News' pity party for a bit, I checked the time and realized I was supposed to be at Crescent Ballroom 10 minutes ago.
Sure I was still pretty late, but I arrived in time to hear most of Ceremony's set and I was lucky that I didn't have to deal with any lines. I was still feeling pretty anxious about the results of our local elections, so I was wholly expecting to refresh my social media feeds every few minutes instead of paying attention to the music. Fortunately, Ceremony proved to be way too interesting for me to look away. Even the time I spent taking notes felt wasted, as I'd look up to see Ross Farrar making a crazy face while some enthusiastic fans banded together for some gang vocals.
It didn't take long for me to realize that this is officially one of the weirdest and greatest shows I've ever seen at Crescent Ballroom. Ceremony's music was even more loud and in your face live, which is saying a lot. The band played a number of newer songs, which some fans may frown on, since they aren't as heavy as tracks from Violence Violence which made fans damn near overjoyed. As the lights flickered with the same brutal intensity as the band's hardcore/thrash songs, the all ages crowd bobbed around and continued to make feeble attempts at stage diving. As I saw the same pair of legs fly through the air a second and third time, I couldn't help but smile. This feels like a good Nile show, only with better lighting.
What's most striking about Ceremony is that their stage presence is everything I'd expect from the punk and hardcore heroes who graced the stage before I was born. I'll probably never be able to see Black Flag live, but I'd imagine it to be a little something like what I saw last night.
As Ceremony left the stage, I wondered how Titus Andronicus could put on a set that was remotely as captivating. The band is not nearly as heavy as Ceremony, but Titus' upbeat song structure-meets singalong vocals-meets deep, intelligent lyrics makes it a bit more accessible. Titus Andronicus' music sounds like a weird hodgepodge of The Ramones, Irish punk, and good ol' Bruce Springsteen-inspired New Jersey punk rock, which proved to be a great soundtrack for an unofficial election results party (the "official" party was going down in the lounge at the same time).
The adjustment between bands was a little jarring at first, but Titus Andronicus grew increasingly interesting as singer Patrick Stickles played harmonica for "Joset of Nazareth's Blues." The fans closest to the stage sang along to just about everything, including Local Business, which has only been out for a couple of weeks.
"We're going to play some new music now," Stickles said, as the audience cheered so loud that fans partially cut him off, launching into "Ecce Homo."
He maintained a good sense of humor and didn't shy away from older songs. "We're gonna take it back to our first record. If you want to take it back even further, this song is from our first 7 inch," said Stickles while introducing "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Landscape With The Fall of Icarus,' "It was like, a long time ago...before a lot of you were even born."
The band's return to Local Business walked a fine line between serious and comical, as "Food Fight!" blended into the rousing eight minute track about Stickles' condition-- "My Eating Disorder."
"You guys want to hear some more Airing of Grievances songs? Well, that dream may turn into a nightmare because this is a slow song. Now would be a good time to go to the bathroom," said the singer before "No Future Part Three: Escape From The Future." This song blended into "No Future, Part One" for a commentary on the "Patrick Stickles disease" that went on for almost 15 minutes. Fans casually bobbed their heads and matched the song's growing intensity until most of the folks in the crowd were screaming along to the "you will always be a loser" refrain towards the end of the song, and like Stickles says- "that's okay."
The band's mastery of long songs with escalating intensity continued with the epic, 14-minute "The Battle of Hampton Roads." "Titus Andronicus Forever" was a nice, short break before the band closed out with another epic, winding song--"Four Score and Seven."
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I may not have been able to watch Obama's speech last night, I did enjoy one hell of a punk show.
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Titus Andronicus and Ceremony at Crescent Ballroom. Personal Bias: I voted for Obama, so I was in a celebratory mood. The Crowd: Mostly underage guys, but not a bad turnout for election night. Overheard in the Crowd: "Fuck Arpaio!" after Stickles said, "don't feel bad that your state went for Romney, it won't matter in the long run." Random Notebook Dump: What happened to Titus Andronicus' female violinist?
Setlists (courtesy of Daniel Reed):