4Knots Music Festival: Titus Andronicus, The Black Angels
Saturday, June 16
South Street Seaport
Better than: Your average punk band/psych band combo.
Titus Andronicus didn’t make headlining this festival any easier for Austin’s The Black Angels. The Texas natives have thrown a few festivals of their own—at the moment, they’re working through the planning stage of their fifth annual Austin Psych Fest—but coming to New York to close out the inaugural 4Knots Music Festival offered a challenge matched by little the group has done in its six years of existence.
This was a Titus crowd, but how could it not be? The pier we stood on stands less than an hour’s drive from the town of Mahwah, where frontman Patrick Sickles sings of spending his senior year on “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future.” And if that wasn’t enough, Sickles recalled a few Siren Fest memories between songs. I’m sure a few super-loyal fans were even using the show as an opportunity to even out the sunburn that coated the left side of their bodies as they screamed along to the free show the band played at the Williamsburg Waterfront on the other side of the East River a few weeks ago.
Perhaps the most reliable live band in the city, the historically minded New Jersey punks did not disappoint. Those who knew few-to-none of Davila 666’s lyrics seemed to know all of Titus’s. If nothing else, they did a good job faking it, and it certainly wasn’t hard when the band offered something new to chant—”Your life is over” on “Titus Andronicus,” “You will always be a loser” on the aforementioned “No Future Part Three,” and other equally uplifting phrases on other equally hard-rocking tunes—nearly every five minutes. The eponymous “Titus Andronicus” provided one of the day’s most memorable moments with Sickles jumping and surfing through the crowd while the band, led by the always-bouncing Amy Andronicus, carried on with the music. “I thought the cord would be longer,” he dryly noted upon returning to the stage.
After the “It’s still us against them” chant that concludes “Four Score and Seven” concluded the band’s time on stage, The Black Angels took the stage to conclude the festival’s live portion. Generally speaking, it’s risky to put a psych band after a couple of punk outfits—the kids start to get antsy searching for a beat to bang their heads and their bodies to—and for the few minutes it took the crowd to become comfortable with the band and vice versa. It was drummer Stephanie Bailey’s firm beat that seemed to be keeping eyes and ears pointed toward the stage. Eventually, the two began to figure each other out, and although dancing and applause replaced screaming and skateboard-waving as the primary way to express appreciation, the sentiment remained the same.
Over the course of the almost 90-minute set, they switched guitars in and out, working the ones they were holding until the last drop of fresh noise emerged before putting them back down to recharge and picking up the next in line. One guitar was hit with a tambourine rather than strummed. Another featured twelve strings, a fact that brought to mind not folk legend Lead Belly (as it would have if deployed one band earlier) but the Rickenbacker played by the Byrds’ Jim McGuinn. As the sun approached the horizon and the music started winding down, a pier of applauding fans brought the group back out for a few more songs, proving that the Texas group was up for the challenge.
Critical bias: Sticking with the “This was arranged by my bosses” line.
Overheard: “You look like Amy.” That was my friend Chris, telling me that I look like Amy Andronicus. I don’t, but I took it as quite the compliment.
Random notebook dump: This was about the time I began sweating through the folded-up pieces of paper I was scribbling notes on. So much for pockets.