Patrick Stickles has the bearded profile of a Civil War general and the fiery and rolling eye of a slightly fanatical preacher. As front man of punk rockers Titus Andronicus, he embodies the thematic core of their new album, The Monitor, finding plenty of parallels between the despair and wreckage of the American Civil War and a modern world similarly fractured by violence, economic injustice, and a highly polarized populace.
Last night at Skull Alley on E. Broadway, Stickles and his bandmates thrashed energetically through an hour-and-a-half set of songs that catalog all sorts of alienation and misery, but the performance itself was strangely joyous. Punk is nothing if not cathartic.
An American flag was draped from the keyboard, an unironic symbol of the things about America we should honor and not forget, as pointed in its meaning as the Abraham Lincoln tee-shirt Stickles was wearing. There probably aren't many shows in which the relative merits of the Monitor and the Merrimack become part of the call and answer.
In "Four Score and Seven," Stickles intones, "This is a war we can't win, after ten thousand years, it's still us against them." They are words that could just as easily have been sung by soldiers around a dying campfire in 1863, and it is the peculiar resonance of these lyrics, harkening back to Gettysburg and hurtling forward to our postmodern woes, that, in part, give Titus Andronicus its compelling power on stage.
Luckily, they are also in the business of having fun, whether it's ribbing their J.Crew-handsome bassist for his peculiar beauty or inviting a random harmonica-toting dude from the crowd to come on up and join them for a song on stage. They have an old-school courtliness about them, thanking the audience for their dance moves, opening bands State Champion and Spider Bags for their presence, and sending us all out the door with an ear-ringing, blood-pounding, punk benediction.
The album: The Monitor, released 2010 on XL
The band: Patrick Stickles, Amy Klein, Ian Graetzer, David Robbins, Eric Harm