When you tell someone that you’re from Washington D.C., you’ll often get a response along the lines of, “There must be a great punk scene there”. At which point, you’re forced to explain that while that might have been true 20 years ago, nowadays, punk bands are about as commonplace as honest politicians in the District. But every once in a while, D.C.’s punk rock underbelly will briefly resurface, as old and young punks gather to celebrate the city’s musical history and keep the flame alive.
This past Friday night offered just such a glimpse of D.C.’s past, when anthemic New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus headlined a benefit show organized by Positive Force D.C., an activist collective that traces its roots back to the “Revolution Summer” of 1985. While the band could have easily sold out one of the city’s rock clubs, they opted instead to play at (and sell out) a local church and donate the proceeds to seniors outreach group We Are Family. By ten o’ clock, the church’s hall was stiflingly hot and packed solid with everyone from grey-haired punk historians down to rowdy teenagers, some of whom looked to have defied the “NO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL” signs posted at the entrance.
It was clear from the mood in the room that a rallying cry was needed and as luck would have it, Titus Andronicus came more than prepared to deliver. The band came barreling out of the gates with “A More Perfect Union”, plowing through the epic, seven-minute song with a relentless conviction. Kids crowsurfed, the band’s members bounced around on stage and frontman Patrick Stickles scaled one of the amplifiers, mic in hand, so as to treat it like a soapbox. The intensity didn’t let up for a solid hour, as the band played with great skill and boundless energy, even turning in a cover of the Bikini Kill classic “Rebel Girl” (“Just sang rebel girl with titus andronicus at a positive force show in d.c. I can now die happy,” guitarist Amy Klein tweeted after the show). Toward the end of the night, Stickles remarked that it felt great to be in Washington, D.C., “the cradle of American punk rock ethics”. Judging by the reaction, it was clear that the crowd felt much the same way.