Review: Titus Andronicus

(Above: Titus Andronicus deliver “A More Perfect Union.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

It’s clear that Patrick Stickles is a smart guy. His band Titus Andronicus is named after one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays and his lyrics are littered with sly allusions to American history and rock heroes like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Despite the pretentious song titles (check the setlist) and English-major critiques (“This next song is about the narrator’s quest for internal validation,“ Stickles announced at one point), many of the band’s songs deal with self-doubt, alienation, insecurity and other forms of social and emotional uncertainty that have served countless other bands so well for so long.TitusAndronicus

When Stickles led crowd in singing “you will always be a loser” or “the enemy is everywhere” it gave off similar vibe to when Weezer declared “In the garage/no one hears me sing this song or Morrissey and the Smiths wondered “In my life/why do I give time/to people who don’t care if I live or die?”

Bonded in isolation, a full but not crowded Riot Room crowd reveled in the indie punk band’s 90-minute set on Friday night. The quintet charged out of the gate with the driving “A More Perfect Union,” also opening track on their most recent, excellent album, “The Monitor.” Stickle doesn’t have a big singing range and his lyrics are so dense it’s often difficult to discern what he’s saying/screaming over the band, but he always keeps the sound churning.

The set stalled a couple times because of equipment problems, but those interruptions couldn’t stall the night. Top moments included the emotional tour de force “Battle of Hampton Roads,” which lead into the mostly instrumental “Titus Andronicus Forever.”

One of the few indie bands that can boast a trio of guitars, “Forever” found the middle ground between Boston and Sonic Youth. As guitarists Amy Klein and David Robbins wailed in harmony, Stickle and the rhythm section reveled in cacophony.

Klein was the night’s unsung hero. Her boundless energy infected the entire room. Most of the night it looked as if she was playing guitar on a trampoline. The only time she wasn’t bouncing around was when she switched to violin. Her lovely solo and arrangement on “Four Score” served as a nice counterpoint to Stickles’ grievances.

At times Stickle seemed to prattle on a bit much between numbers -– especially in the second half of the set –- but when the band kicked in the world was a perfect place, at least until the song ended.

Setlist: A More Perfect Union; Richard II; My Time Outside the Womb; New Song; Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus’; Fear and Loathing in Mahwah; No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future; Titus Andronicus; To Old Friends and New; Battle of Hampton Roads > Titus Andronicus Forever; Four Score and Seven.

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Review: Modest Mouse (2010)


Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band

Modest Mouse

The Kansas City Star 


Isaac Brock says he isn’t surprised that Modest Mouse hit the mainstream a few years ago. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t really think about it.

“I don’t ask myself why people like an album,” said Brock, who founded the band in 1993. “Thinking about those things doesn’t take up as much of my mental sphere as cleaning my floor.”

In 2004 the band went from underground status to platinum-sellers with “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.”

When it came time to work on the follow-up, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” Brock didn’t worry about what anyone would expect: longtime fans, Top 40 scenesters or record executives at Sony. His lack of concern paid off. Even with two new faces in the band — former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and prodigal founding drummer Jeremiah Green (who quit in 2003) — the record has been a success.

“For me … it’s counterproductive to think about that stuff,” Brock said. “Somehow we are able to leave all of that at the studio door and start from scratch.

“People assume since Johnny’s in the band he’s changed how we did things. But there are six people in this band, and everyone contributes in their own way. We all do it.”

In other words, don’t come to the show expecting “The Queen Is Dead, Part II.”

“It’s a funny thing,” Brock said. “There will definitely be people who show up based on the premise that Johnny is in the band. But our shows are going to be a lot uglier than what the Smiths did.”

Still, Marr’s contributions influence more than the songs he worked on in the studio. Brock said Marr’s impact on the older material is noticeable.

“That’s where we’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Brock said. “I told him that on any song he didn’t have to play it as it had been played before. Make your own canvas. It would have been a waste if I didn’t let him make his own imprint.”

While Marr’s arrival to the Mouse has generated most of the publicity, Brock also welcomed founding drummer Green back after a one-album absence.

“He just needed to take a break,” Brock said, declining to elaborate on why Green left other than saying he “went out of town for a while.”

“Everyone who leaves is welcome to come back,” Brock said, “with some exceptions.”

Brock said he was surprised at the synergy Green has with Modest Mouse’s second drummer, newcomer Joe Plummer.

“We brought Joe in to play percussion, but the way he and Jeremiah have been playing together as drummers is very cool,” Brock said. “It’s much more interesting than I ever expected.”

Making music that is interesting is the only gauge Brock has for his artistic process.

“It would take a change in who I am for me to care too much,” he said. “I’m not much interested in much other than being who I am.”