MARCH 27th, 6:18 PM. SACRAMENTO, CA
Hello, friends. My name is Patrick and I play electric guitar and sing in the indie-rock band Titus Andronicus. I am here, as I will be periodically over the coming weeks, to tell you about what our band is up to as we traverse the vast American landscape in pursuit of entertaining the kids.
You have never heard of Titus Andronicus before? Okay, well, I will bring you up to speed as quickly as I can, so that these essays will be as illuminating as possible. We are from New Jersey. We have been around for about five years. We have got just two albums, the first of which was The Airing of Grievances, released by Troubleman Unlimited back in April of 2008, and the second of which was The Monitor, released by Extra Large Recordings earlier this month. Besides myself, the band consists of Ian Graetzer, who plays the bass guitar and looks after the finer points of our business (we became a limited liability corporation about two years ago), Eric Harm, who plays the drums and does the second most singing and oversees the loading and unloading of our equipment, Dave Robbins, who plays the keyboards and yet another guitar and manages our website, and Amy Klein, who plays the guitar and the electric violin and infects us all with her wonderful enthusiasm for life. By and large, we are twenty-four years old, except Dave, who is a jaw-dropping twenty-six. We run around America in a 2000 Chevrolet Express fifteen-passenger van, which we affectionately refer to as Blue Thunder, or Art Vandelay, or Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj. When we are on tour, we don’t like to take days off or stay in hotels, but we like everything else. As I said before, our second album, which we are in the process of promoting now, is called The Monitor, and, as such, the tour on which we do said promoting is called The Monitour. Get it? Monitor + tour = Monitour. Makes sense, right? Yeah, I think so, too. This tour is 48 days and 54 shows long. Today is day number 20, and we are in Sacramento, Calif., where tonight we will play at a pizzeria called Luigi’s. I think that pretty much covers it.
Now that we have that out of the way, here is what has been going on. The first leg of this tour found our band performing primarily in independently owned and operated record stores situated throughout the eastern half of our glorious nation. Why would we do this, you ask? Well, for one thing, the brass at Extra Large said it was a good idea, and if anybody knows anything about selling indie-rock records, it is them. Ever hear of a little album called Contra by Vampire Weekend? No? Well, it was the number one album in the country for about a week. Where were you that week, anyway? Secondly, one of the functions of this part of the tour was transporting us from our home state of New Jersey down to Austin, Texas for purposes of performing at this year’s South by Southwest music conference. As much as that conference is the world’s greatest party, it also sucks in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the fact that every band in the world goes there and very few of them care to travel to Texas without playing any incidental concerts along the way. This oversaturation of bands makes playing virtually anywhere on the straightest possible line between New York City and Los Angeles that also includes Austin a quixotic pursuit at best, and any efforts to do so will likely be rewarded with poor turnouts and accordingly poor monetary compensation. I remember before last year’s conference, we played a totally stacked bill in Baton Rouge, La. that included Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson and Marnie Stern, which ended up being a lot like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. By playing in record stores, we would find ourselves playing for free generally in the afternoons or early evenings, and as such, taking us out of the nightlife competition. Pretty smart, huh? Thirdly, and most importantly, big business has destroyed American capitalism, the greatest economic system yet devised by humans, and we feel it is imperative that we stack our chips with those who continue to fight the good fight. The corporate ogre will stop at nothing to ensure that every mom and pop across America has no chance of sustaining their own business, however ethical or decent, or whatever the importance of the service they provide, which is enormously dangerous for musicians like ourselves and those who like music besides Susan Boyle or the Kings of Leon or whatever. Can you imagine a world where the consumer can only get his or her records at Wal-Mart or Target or some other big box store? Let’s not forget, these are the people responsible for that great Nirvana song, “Waif Me.” In this rapidly-approaching dystopia, what will become of Napalm Death? Or Black Dice? Or Fucked Up? Or Titus Andronicus? The war is right outside our door, kids, and even if we aren’t going to help win it in any significant or noticable way, at least we will be buried with our beloved fellow losers.
So yeah, here are some things that happened during that wild week. The wildest thing probably went down at Used Kids in Columbus, Ohio, epicenter of shitgaze and high-stakes proving ground for some of our nation’s finest college footballers. Columbus is also home to Times New Viking, a band we have had opportunity to become acquainted with and with whom we have developed a friendly, easy-going camaraderie. We are also big admirers of their music (their song “Teenage Lust,” especially, was a personal favorite get-up-and-go jam of mine back in college), so to have earned their friendship is heart-warming and validating, perhaps never so much as this day in Columbus, when Jared and Adam, who play the guitar and the drum set in that band, respectively, showed up at the record store to kick it with us and generally lend always-much-needed moral support. Awww, you guys! Anyway, Adam was schooling me on Columbus indie-rock history, as I had failed to recognize the celebrity then in our midst. I don’t know what his name is, but he is an older gentleman who has, for some reason, made a habit of showing up at just about every show in town and demanding that the band performs a cover of either “Louie Louie” or the theme from the old “Batman” TV show, which he will sing. Apparently, he famously did this with Nirvana when they first played in Columbus. Later on, one punter described him to me as “Columbus’ own Daniel Johnston.” I was quite tickled by this story, and more tickled still when, as if on cue, Ian appeared from upstairs and asked me if I knew how to play “Batman.” Conveniently, I was in a band in high school which covered that song, and Titus Andronicus has a song which follows the twelve-bar blues format, which the “Batman” theme follows also, so we were well-prepared to meet this guy’s request. And so it was: Near the end of our set, he came up and sang four refrains of the “Batman” theme much to the delight of the assembled masses. Woo hoo! Later on, we ran into him at shitgaze hub Cafe Bourbon Street (an employee of the record store, also a bartender at the former, had invited us there and told us TNV also would be stopping by—they never did!), and he didn’t seem to recognize any of us. This world sure is full of strange and wondrous people.
Yeah, that was hella kooky. So, what else happened… Let’s flash forward a few days and about eight hundred miles to St. Louis, Mo., where we played at a store called Vintage Vinyl. There were a couple of things remarkable about this show. Firstly, about a week previous, we had played at a different store called Vintage Vinyl in Fords, N.J. Coincidence? Secondly, upon completion of our performance, the management ceremoniously presented us with a three-LP vinyl record of “Titus Andronicus,” the play by William Shakespeare from whence we derive our name. How thoughtful! The moment that I will choose to discuss, however, is the mistreatment of some young punks that I observed on the street. Who was it that was hassling these wonderful kids, you ask? Of course it was the fucking cops! These youths were walking along, laughing and joking, enjoying one another’s company, when this gun-toting, former-high-school-star-running-back-turned-alcoholic-wifebeater (Okay, assuming a lot? Yes, but I know what side I’m on. How about you? Furthermore, there is such a thing as poetic license.) ran up on them and began what is likely his usual process of keeping the streets free from riff-raff and other such undesirables, standard tactics of intimidation and condescension and so forth. I had been observing these kids for a short while now, and so I can vouch for the wholesomeness of their activities. What were their crimes? As near as I can tell, they were as follows: They were wearing leather jackets with patches and buttons on them, tightly fitted black jeans, and baseball hats with upturned brims. They appeared to be about 16 or 17 years old. They were not all of the same gender. Lastly, one of these great kids was what some callous folks might called “disfigured” around the face and neck. I don’t know if he had some kind of condition or was recovering from some recent serious injury, but his face was pretty extremely swollen, giving him an appearance not unlike Rocky Dennis. All in all, these kids did not fit into the pre-established archetypes of productive members of St. Louis society, and as such, were great candidates for getting a nightstick up the anus. I’m telling you, it made me sick watching Johnny Law berate and belittle these kids for no good reason at all, essentially telling them that they were lucky he didn’t turn the hose on them. These kids ended up coming to the show, and upon seeing them, I told them and everybody else who was listening how upset I was at their shabby treatment, and many of those assembled joined me in solidarity with them. I got to meet them properly after the performance, and found them to be quite sharp and gracious and affable youths. Very fine kids, indeed. I was especially touched by how they had driven all the way from Kansas City to see us. So sweet! I guess there really isn’t too much of a point to this story, besides that it sucks to see the laughable and archaic scenario of the pigs picking on the punks just for looking like punks. I thought those kind of shenanigans went out with bands that had “Reagan” in their name. This is 2010, people! UP THE PUNXXX!
You know what else sucked? The film Alice In Wonderland. You see, Dave used to work as an RD at Oberlin College, and as such, we went there following a performance in Lakewood, Ohio. As it was Tuesday, this theater was offering an admittedly awesome deal, wherein admission was only five dollars, and, included in those five dollars, was free popcorn! Wheeee! Sounds like the best night ever, right? Yeah, it was, until we watched that shit-ass movie! Okay, it was visually stunning, but visually stunning in a highly sterilized, soulless, computer-generated kind of way. This film confirms that Tim Burton has stretched his aesthetic past its breaking point and well into the realm of virtual self-parody, and any fan of his will hope that this trash will be the bottom of the downward spiral he has been on since Big Fish, which looked great and was emotionally resonant. This movie was all flash and no substance. Character development was at absolute zero. It seems that Tim Burton was so desperate to cram as many cheap tricks into 109 minutes that he found himself wanting for time to do anything that would make us give half a shit about any of the characters, whether that be loving Alice or the Mad Hatter or hating the Red Queen or whatever. Like I said, no soul. Speaking of the Mad Hatter, somebody take away whatever plaque Johnny Depp has that says he is the best actor in the world and thereby has license to repeat himself over and over again. Anyway, I could go on and on about how shitty this movie was, but what would be the point? It is going to make a billion dollars anyway. I just wish I had my five back!
Well, all that hater-ade has got me feeling pissed off and exhausted, and it is almost time to get my hustle on for some free pizza, so this is goodbye for now. Perhaps you shall hear from me again soon and we can talk about SXSW and whatever else is going on. Take care.