Jack White was in the building earlier that day. On a day when The Raconteurs put out their first album in over ten years, the band played a small in-store that afternoon at Rough Trade in Brooklyn-the first of three intimate NY shows for the band. The Raconteurs would go onto play Rough Trade Saturday night and Coney Island Baby Sunday afternoon. Jack White exists within a realm that few working rock musicians do; Dave Grohl is probably his only true contemporary. This is all to say that these 200-250 cap rooms are a rarity for someone of Jack White’s stature to perform in. He’s a rockstar in the truest definition of the word, which is very different from how someone would perceived Titus Andronicus who headlined Rough Trade on Friday Night for the release show for their new record An Obelisk.
This is not a dig at Titus Andronicus. The band are perfectly accomplished in their own rite. The Monitor is an indie classic that exists within the same realm as On The Aeroplane Over The Sea. The band put out a big 90 minute rock opera that sounds like it would be held up with Icarus’ wings, but it doesn’t fall apart. They included a cover of “Like A Rolling Stone” on their last album, and it doesn’t suck. Patrick Stickles is someone who works hard and knows exactly what he’s doing, but you may not realize that walking into Rough Trade on Friday night. The band have been staunch advocates of DIY ethics, and it shows. The band’s gear was worn-a lot of wires showing, tape holding into together, and pedal malfunctions throughout the evening. Stickles could be seen wandering around the venue and behind the merch table, and whenever he left the stage, he’d just shimmy off the side into the crowd instead of exiting backstage or taking the steps to the side door. Listening to “Crass Tattoo” or Stickles’ interview on WTF, it’s obvious that these are values Stickles holds dear, and he generally seems like he’s more interested in breaking down and demystifying rockstar bullshit. This affirmation was confirmed when Ryley Walker opened.
Ryley Walker is a completely mellowed-out singer-songwriter who does not really set the mood for what Titus Andronicus would do onstage. A talented guitarist, Walker makes songs with intricate guitar parts that are dreamy and airy. Between songs, he made jokes and riffed with the audience. He responded to a heckler, who seemed out of place at the show, but he really captured attention during his final song, where he manically strummed his guitar and created atmosphere with the feedback.
By the time, Patrick Stickles entered the stage there was little space to be found inside Rough Trade’s back room. He addressed the crowd before playing, telling everyone that tonight would be fun and we’d dance, but don’t touch, push, or fight anyone that doesn’t want to be: “We’re going to bump elbows, but we don’t want any troubles.” He then performed “To Old Friends and New” in the lone moment of calm during the band’s 19 song set. Once the band came out and ripped through “(I Blame) Society,” a certain level of excitement came that only grew as the band played. Following a mishap with his pedal board, Stickles remarked about running into Jack White earlier in the day and him saying, “What’s up?” Stickles recalled this story as a semi-humorous meeting of a larger-than-life person and a small time local punk.
The big flaw in Stickles’ humbling demeanor is that Titus Andronicus are a real fucking rock band. Even though they’re not nearly as famous as Jack White, they posture like they’re Guns N’ Roses headlining the Garden. Stickles and Liam Betson don’t shy away from leaning into each other like Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley do. When the guitar solo in “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” kicked in, Stickles walked to the front of the stage and presented himself with the stature of Jimmy Page. Before playing “Above the Bodega” from last year’s A Productive Cough, they welcomed two friends of the band to act as back up vocalists for the late 60’s inspired number. The largest responses were still from the hits, “Dimed Out”, “Fear and Loathing”, and “A More Perfect Union” drew the largest reactions from the audience, which induced plenty of moshing. Stickles remarked, “I suppose it’s okay, if no one’s getting hurt,” with the slightest smirk that you could tell he was happy to see people move.
The whole of the band seemed to take the most joy in playing new songs early on, but once the old songs sparked electricity throughout the audience, Stickles remarked, “We should probably do one more from the new record,” reluctantly playing the excellent “Tumult Around the World.” Where A Productive Cough showed Titus Andronicus as a collective that doesn’t need to write “punk bangers,” An Obelisk is a celebration of their ability to do so and merge those new sounds with old. “Hey Ma” is a blues number that could’ve been written by John Fogerty. “My Body and Me” acts similarly as an album standout, but the new songs they played are definitely the album’s punk bangers. The most moving part of the evening though happened as the band closed their main set. The final song they played was their cover of “Like A Rolling Stone”, and as the feedback narrated an exit, Stickles walked just about offstage before returning and firing into The Monitor’s 14-minute long closing epic, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” into “A More Perfect Union”, “Titus Andronicus Forever” and “…And Ever.” It was a set-closer of Tommy proportions. You won’t see Titus Andronicus playing King’s Theater anytime soon, but they’d probably give The Raconteurs a run for their money.