4Knots Music Festival: Titus Andronicus
Pier 17, South Street Seaport
Saturday, July 16
Better than: Shakespeare.
After a race through the New York City subway system, I charged triumphantly out onto the waterfront as Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus sang the slow opening lyrics of “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ.” I took advantage of this low-intensity moment to race through the crowd toward the mosh pit that was forming right in front of the stage. Disgruntled older concertgoers shouted at my back as I darted past them. I reached the front only moments before Stickles barked, “Should the shit hit the fan, I just pray you will not be spared. Fuck you!” and led the band into a chaotic swirl of finger-tapping and power chords. I jumped into the fray with a grin on my face, and found myself in the sweatiest, happiest part of New York City.
After performing a new song that was a little too slow for the swarm of fans, who were clearly waiting to jump all over each other, Stickles took the microphone and promised, “We’re going to take you back to an easier, simpler time: the summer of ’08.” The band launched into “Titus Andronicus” and Stickles climbed down from the stage to share vocal duties with the overjoyed fans. Seemingly taken by the energy of the crowdsurfers, Stickles hopped over the barrier and floated into the pit, where he was surrounded by adoring indie rockers chanting, “Your life is over!”
(It was about this point that I was hit with an intense case of dehydration, so I took off for the vendor booths in search of something to quench my thirst. I was rewarded by the kind people at XL Energy Drink, who had filled the bed of their pick-up truck with ice-cold sugary beverages that were also free. It was at about this time that I remembered Qdoba was giving away mango salads, so I grabbed one of those too.)
Rehydrated and well fed, I made my second charge toward the stage and was treated to an incredibly powerful version of “The Battle of Hampton Roads” with guitarist Amy Klein playing the electric violin, and, finally, a stirring rendition of “Four Score and Seven” with the crowd chiming in lines like, “‘Cause these humans treat humans like humans treat hogs/ They get used up, coughed up, and fried in a pan/ But I wasn’t born to die like a dog/ I was born to die just like a man!” and “It’s still us against them, and they’re winning!” ad infinitum.
While that final lyric may sound defeatist, it most certainly is not. At the end of Titus’ set, the bruised, sweaty fans around me were nothing but jubilant as they headed for the exit. Stickles and company manage to perfectly articulate Albert Camus’ idea that we’re fucked, but we’re gonna enjoy every moment of it.
Critical bias: I’ve seen Titus Andronicus six times in the last six months.
Overheard: “Fuck Bruce Springsteen. I wanna hear some Replacements covers!”
Random Notebook Dump: There were more girls in the mosh pit at Titus Andronicus than at any other show I’ve ever been to.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 18, 2011