Punk Goes to the Opera

Dan Tylkowski

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After a bit of back and forth yelling between the two parties, Stickles invited the fan onstage to recreate Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War-themed speech used as the intro to “A More Perfect Union,” still quite possibly the best rock song written this decade.

Dude was notably geeked, and nailed it word for word, and then the band nailed it as well, one powerful lull and explosion after the next. Now, maybe the kid was just an American History major who only likes bands that write complicated concept albums using the historical events as metaphors for current day social division and self-loathing, or maybe he was just a band plant. (Not to be cynical.) But let’s take the optimistic view and look at it as punk at its best; no barrier between fan and band, we’re all in this together, the enemy is everywhere.

That this most punk of moments was inspired by Stickles appreciation for a fan’s patriotism, and lead to an eight-minute long song is…well it’s not that confusing if you’ve been paying attention. Titus Andronicus and the band they were opening for (let’s just call them F***** Up) have become two of the most respected and vital punk groups of their generation by gleefully ignoring rules about what is and isn’t punk while still playing with enough passion to inspire 1,000 sore-throated sing-a-longs.

Titus have been on a mission to reclaim, and reshape, patriotism for a generation raised on cynicism, and F***** Up were there to perform in full their latest album-length rock opera, which is the sort of Genesis move that necessitated the creation of back to basics punk in the first place.

Titus Andronicus performed a few new songs Monday night, one of which Stickles said was about moving from a small town to the big city, and the challenges of living in New York even though it’s the best place on earth. It was hard to tell if Stickles was sincere about this or mocking this sort of song, as Stickles is one of the driest people on earth.

They were breaking in new material, and new guitarist Liam Betson, who played on The Monitor before leaving the band for college; he acquitted himself well, even if he lacked former ax-slinger Amy Andronicus’s overflowing glee. Stickles shouted out his record label, kidded with them (we think) about giving him a hard time for writing seven-minute long songs and then debuted a jangly, fiery power-pop song that he told the audience was about his eating disorder. (Bet they were thrilled.) He then thanked the headliners for proving that punk songs don’t have to be a particular length and capped off his band’s set with the 14-minute long "The Battle of Hampton Roads."

F***** Up brought out a four-part, tuxedo-clad string section to perform the intro and various interludes from their new rock opera David Comes To Life. You could tell this was a special night for the Canadian sextet because it took a whole song and a half for singer Damian Abraham to remove his shirt. Abraham has a terrific growl, but he doesn’t have the…let’s say delicacy…to deliver an easy to follow narrative. Anyone hoping for elucidation to David’s meta-narrative about lovers torn apart by political violence probably didn’t have a much clear picture after last night.

But it’s still not a misnomer to call the performance a rock opera. Despite the deliberately crude name and their roots in hardcore punk, the band has evolved into sophisticated, nimble unit without sacrificing an ounce of white knuckle fury. Guitarists Ben Cook, Mike Haliechuk and Josh Zucker were able to adroitly recreate the complicated layers of instrumentation of David, their instrumental swells and full-speed shifts from one twisty, serrated passage into the next did as much to reflect the narrative surge of the material as Abraham did.

At the end of the set  they unleashed a climatic surge of sheer volume that saw their singer doing his best to drown out the guitar onslaught with his voice.  It was a moment that was, if not quite operatic per say, was beautifully epic, and in its own nose-thumbing way to three-chord orthodoxy, very very punk.

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