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Review Mon Nov 26 2012

Review: Adventures in Punk Patriotism with Titus Andronicus @ Metro

What does American patriotism look like in 2012? It depends who you ask, but I'm pretty sure Patrick Stickles, frontman of New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus, has a few ideas.

Since their start in 2005, Titus Andronicus have tapped into a new way of channeling the American spirit via the true-believer punk of Fugazi and a little Springsteen guitar glory. Where the bands last release, 2010's excellent The Monitor, was a collection of Civil War-inspired epics that transformed the Emancipation Proclamation into a pogo-ready soundtrack, the band has since turned hyper-local — perhaps more than a little inspired by the Occupy protests of late — for this year's Local Business. A lot's happened in the past two years, and while the ghost of Lincoln is certainly still in the air — and if Sunday night's show at the Metro is any indication — Stickles seems to have moved on to Reconstruction.

With locals Coffin Pricks and Ceremony getting the night off to an excellent and fuzzed-out start, Stickles and co. hit the stage at 10pm sharp to chants of "USA! USA!" from the packed audience apparently ready to indulge the band's punk populism. Stickles was clean-shaven (having ditched his Lincoln-esque beard for a more business-forward look for the new election/record cycle), rallying the band's three-guitar attack with a "Ready, fellas?" before flying into Local Business standout "In A Big City." The newer, more condensed tracks from Business sounded just as punchy if not quite as epic as the band's earlier work, and mark a shift in Stickles songwriting style toward a more classic rock feel that puts the band closer to Cheap Trick or even The Knack, albeit with the band's trademark fury intact.

In addition to "toning it down a notch" for a few slow-burning anthems that featured just Stickles and a guitar, the group burned through some early material "from the glory days of 2008" to great effect. Throughout the night, Stickles attacked both new and old songs with the rabid intensity of a pit bull foaming at the mouth, combing through new standouts like "Ecce Homo" and "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape with the Flood of Detritus" and even indulging a fan request of "Ghost With A Boner" by Nashville punk band Diarrhea Planet ("an easy name to remember," Stickles quipped.) The band closed out the night with a furious take on The Monitor's "The Battle of Hampton Roads," leaving without an encore despite un-ironic chants of "four more years!" from the crowd. If punk patriotism does exist, Sunday night's crowd has certainly found its leader.

There's an excellent Stereogum article by Liz Pelly that discusses "the possibility of punk patriotism" with regards to Stickles and his band, and the article also doubles as a primer for how the band has embedded itself into national discussions of what it means to be a young punk who's unafraid to ditch political apathy with regards to the current state of things in America. Stickles has always championed the politics of dissent as being central to the idea of American patriotism, with the punk ethic providing him a natural solution to improving the national discourse in all matters from music to politics. He has plenty enough to say on the matter, and with the band's hyper-local consciousness in all matters economic, political, or even hygienic on their newest release doing much to counteract their equally strong streak of boozy nihilism, it's Stickles singular voice that seems to rally the troops most.

But stars and stripes aside, its important to note that despite the band's clear mission to integrate the political and the historical into their message, they are first and foremost a very solid guitar-driven band. Stickles's lead chops have improved significantly since 2010, and he seems more and more comfortable stepping into the role of punk populist leader he's created for himself over the past few years. But in the absence of the kind of clear Us vs. Them dividing lines that dominated the ways of conducting an independent band in the days of, say, Ian Mackaye, it would seem that Titus Andronicus are the lone lightning rod that stands where the punk ethic and patriotic dissent intersect. For now, at least, it's up to Stickles to draw his own battle lines as the Reconstruction soldiers on.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

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