Free Energy opened for Titus Andronicus at the Bluebird last night, and while I was skeptical of the band's hype upon entering the venue, I'm fully on board now. The Philly quintet has received breathless reviews for its power-pop revivalism, but my only previous exposure to the band was through its hit song, "Bang Pop." The act apparently has more skill and depth than that song would suggest, and it also has an inborn capacity for showmanship.
Lead singer Paul Sprangers is electric. He has thin hips, makes liberal use of his commercial-quality hair, and the dude can flat-out dance. His band also showed some range when Titus Andronicus frontma, Patrick Stickles joined the outfit on stage for a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Going Down," which Free Energy had covered previously on a split seven-inch with Titus Andronicus, which itself covered the Television Personalities' "Anxiety Block."
Although the moment seemed counterintuitive, considering that Titus Andronicus's album is the one that's full of Springsteen references, Free Energy nailed it. That the band's tight melodies make the perfect summertime rock-and-roll soundtrack was a melancholy reminder that the leaves are changing color outside. Still, they kept it hotter than blazes inside the Bluebird.
Titus Andronicus's latest release, The Monitor, is broken up by spoken-word pieces from Ken Burns's Civil War documentary. Upon taking the stage, Stickles invited an inebriated audience member up to recite the album's opening dialogue. The dude recited it verbatim, and with good vigor, before diving into the crowd as Titus Andronicus broke into "A More Perfect Union."
Stickles sings from behind a big, bushy beard, and he immediately put to rest any doubt that his slight frame might be incapable of reproducing the vocals from the band's albums. Songs like "Richard II" and "No Future Part Three" require a sustained and focused howling energy.
The crowd was in good form, and ready to shout along with the band from the start. This was good news, because The Monitor is stocked with lines that you want to belt out. Eyes widened in anticipation of the money lines, the best being Stickles's Springsteen riff, "Tramps like us, baby we were born to die!"
Titus Andronicus played almost every track from The Monitor, which means that the show was full of medleys and suites. "The Battle of Hampton Roads" bled into "Titus Andronicus Forever," and show closer "Four Score and Seven" was played faithfully as the multi-part suite that it is. The crowd was laser-focused throughout, and helped the band close out the night by murderously shouting along, "It's still us against them!"
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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I was having my yearly crisis of faith in punk rock until I came across The Monitor. Anyone who has been to my apartment in the last three months can attest to the fact that it's been in constant rotation. Since nobody has actually been to my apartment in the last three months, I'll just say that this is one of my favorite records of the year and leave it at that. By the Way: Amy Klein was the only female on stage, and on three different occasions, she slung her guitar over her shoulder and picked up a violin. It's a testament to the Bluebird's acoustics that her string instrument somehow remained at the front of the mix. Random Detail: Members of both bands took turns hawking their merchandise up front. That's punk rock for ya.
TITUS ANDRONICUS 09.16.10 | Bluebird Theater Denver, CO
A More Perfect Union Richard II A Pot in Which to Piss No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future Theme from "Cheers" Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ Joset of Nazareth's Blues To Old Friends and New The Battle of Hampton Road Titus Andronicus Forever Unknown Cover Four Score and Seven