Words by Peter Quinton
But what really made the night special – one that will always stand out amongst the dozens of shows I’ve been to – was Maxwell’s itself. Residing in the shabby backroom of Maxwell’s bar and grill, I was first floored by how packed in everything was, as it easily was – and still probably is – the smallest rock club I’ve ever been to. But the tight spaces and minimal décor of the venue only cemented the show as one of the most intimate and intense concerts I’ve ever been too, with a 1:1 relationship between performer and audience maintained. After the show – since there was no backstage area and I was up front, singer Patrick Stickles leaped off stage and grabbed me and my friends in an exhausted embrace. Before Maxwell’s, I never thought anything like this was possible.
Sadly, the rich history and wonderful memories I and many others have experienced at Maxwell’s weren’t enough to keep the venue going, as Maxwell’s is expected to officially close its doors at the end of July. It’s a sad reality for everyone to face, and I can only assume that each show since the announcement has felt more like a going away party than a typical concert. But with this being the last time I’ll ever walk through the venue’s doors, it only seemed fitting that I would celebrate it with the band that showed me why Maxwell’s was so great in the first place: Titus Andronicus.
And they certainly made it count, too. Although this wasn’t the last show Titus would play at Maxwell’s (they were scheduled to play the next night as the last show in a three-night series), the band’s performance made it feel like the last show they’d ever play period, playing a nearly three hour set which included songs from all three albums, new songs, fan favorites, and even a cover. Not to mention, bringing along their good friends Screaming Females, one of New Jersey’s best punk bands, to open the show for them. It was such an overwhelming night that, by the end of the night, I was practically beaten into submission and totally exhausted. But if this was the last night I would get to spend with two of New Jersey’s best bands in Jersey’s best music venue, than I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
It wasn’t very surprising that Titus would choose Screaming Females to open one of their last shows at Maxwell’s – both acts have frequently played shows together, and the Females were slated to headline the club themselves a week later – but it was certainly welcoming to see them on the bill. Screaming Females makes for an excellent opening band, with Marissa Paternorser’s brawny riffs and guitar solo’s charging up the crowd but never wearing you out, and their set opening for Titus was no exception. Maybe it was because I was sitting closer to the speakers than usual, but the bands performances of fan-favorites like “I Don’t Mind It,” “A New Kid,” and “It All Means Nothing” felt more punishing than ever, with Paternorser’s banshee howl sounding especially bone-rattling. This wasn’t my first time seeing Screaming Females, but their opening set was a perfect reminder of what a powerhouse the group can be live, and why they’re a must-see act for those who frequent shows in Jersey.
Speaking of must-see Jersey acts, we still had an absolute monster of a set awaiting us from Titus. It’s a good thing the band was wise enough to have Screaming Females charge up the crowd, because from the moment Titus introduced themselves and launched into the anthemic “Titus Andronicus,” I needed all the energy I could muster to hold my own against the forward push from the highly enthusiastic crowd. But hearing classics like “My Time Outside the Womb” and “A More Perfect Union” played with the abandon and enthusiasm Titus is renowned for made it easy to find the extra bit of adrenaline needed to keep up with the energetic crowd at Maxwell’s.
But starting with all guns blazing like this was necessary to build the momentum needed to keep the crowd going through bands lengthy, content-heavy set, an unexpected –yet exhausting – treat. After playing through a few early classics, the band unexpectedly kicked off their marathon of a set by playing their latest album, 2012’s Local Business, in its entirety. Local Business is a divisive record for some Titus fans, toning down the angst-riddled grandeur of their previous works for more stripped down songs, but performed live, these songs come out just as fiery and lion-hearted as anything else, with the crowd going wild as Titus battered out “Still Life With Hot Deuce on a Silver Platter” and “In A Big City.”
Following the Local Business play through, we were treated to even more surprises for what felt like something of a free-for-all during the middle chunk of their set. This portion of the night was more of a celebration of the groups oddities and playful charisma than anything else, playing rarities like Record Store Day 12” gem “The Dog” (sung by drummer Eric Harm) and recent concert staple “I Got a Date Tonight.” The latter, I should add, was the first part of a four song saga detailed by Patrick Stickles about falling in love, revealing your flaws, a dream sequence following immigrant lovers in the 1910’s (yes, you read that correctly), and betrayal, which included playing two new songs and a cover of “My Best Friends Girl” by The Cars. Though this all seemed more like a chance for Stickles to let his eccentric side shine (something that pops up frequently during his stage banter), but it was certainly great to hear some new songs, especially the savage, totally awesome “Fatal Flaw.”
But while it was exciting to hear new music and fun listening to Patrick ramble about a lost love story that may or may not be true, the Titus we all came to see shined brightest in the show’s closing moments, as the band closed the night with some of their best songs: “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ,” “No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future,” and “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” Ending with a 14-minute song seems overwhelming after a more than two hour set (believe me, it was), but if Titus were will to go the distance ending with their biggest and most hopelessly triumphant song, then it was only fair for us to use every last ounce of energy we had to throw ourselves amongst the pit and repeat the songs scathing passages.
Before playing these songs, however, Stickles pulled something unexpected, shining the spotlight on some devoted fans, two of which who made t-shirts with “Fear and Loathing…” enscribed on them and one with a Titus tattoo. It was a brilliant display which showed just how devoted the cult of Titus has grown over the years, showing just how important the group has become to so many people, myself included.
Goodbyes are never easy, and as much fun as the show was, it was hard to shake off that ugly feeling knowing that this was the last time that I, my friends, and possibly many others that night, would spend a night with Titus at Maxwell’s. But Maxwell’s has always been a venue for celebrating, not grieving, and for me personally, I couldn’t have imagined a better band to celebrate the history and experience of Maxwell’s with than Titus Andronicus.
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