Titus Andronicus use a tired rock trope to write a love letter to the scene that made them what they are. Frampton Comes Alive this ain't.
The goal of Titus Andronicus as a band is one that many artists have attempted over the years: that of making music with a grand, epic sweep that still touches on something deeply personal and intimate. Do it right, and you’re hailed as a genius. Do it wrong, and you become Angels & Airwaves. For Titus Andronicus, though, this goal isn’t just one they’re attempting to reach through music, but also through their conduct as a band. One needn’t look further than the concept behind their new live album, S+@dium Rock. Usually, when a band is on the ascendancy, they tailor a live album to sound as big and epic as possible. Titus, on the other hand, aim to keep things intimate, choosing to showcase not just their dynamic live act, but the close-knit community of friends and fans that made the band into what they are.
Recorded at Shea Stadium -- not the old home of the New York Mets, but a Brooklyn performance space that has served as the band’s de-facto home away from home for years -- S+@dium Rock has the same sort of home-recorded, DIY feel as any of the other recordings that the venue distributes on the web. Furthermore, Titus eschew the career-spanning arc that most live albums follow, choosing instead to highlight 11 of the choice cuts from the massive The Most Lamentable Tragedy. Whether or not these are subtle ways to subvert the tradition of bloated live albums is up to interpretation, but this approach does pare the previously daunting TMLT down to some of its finest moments. If anything, S+@dium Rock serves that purpose for fans unwilling to completely keep up with the band’s ambitions.
While the material that Titus Andronicus is playing is quite expansive in nature, what S+@dium Rock accomplishes most effectively is creating a feeling of intimacy. At times, the album sounds like the recording of a raucous house party as opposed to a live performance. Suitably, the recording quality means that the band are shown in their rawest state, but Titus Andronicus was a band that thrived off of that kind of energy, anyway. While this means that we occasionally get moments like Stickles slurring his way through the beginning of “Into The Void (Filler),” it also means that the unchecked aggression of songs like “Dimed Out” and “Fatal Flaw” comes through perfectly, even surpassing the studio versions in some respects. Even a torch song like “Stable Boy” becomes more bracing and immediate: whereas this is the kind of song that would get lost on a sprawling triple album, here it becomes the deserved centerpiece of an excellent live set. As it fades into the closer “Standing (On Our Own)” and Stickles pleads for a little help from his friends, it feels as if he’s summarizing his band’s allure with misfits and outsiders in one beautiful moment.
Still, it’s hard not to want more from S+@dium Rock. Given Titus Andronicus’ discography up to this point and their sheer power as a live band, longtime fans may find it confusing that at least one deep cut from records past didn’t make the tracklist here. That’s to take nothing away from the material on The Most Lamentable Tragedy, which is often great, but fan favorites like “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ,” “Four Score And Seven,” and “Still Life with Hot Deuce on a Silver Platter” are nowhere to be heard here, and S+@dium Rock sadly suffers for it.
Then again, a comprehensive portrait of the band would be one of those traditional rock moves that Titus Andronicus have studiously avoided thus far. S+@duim Rock is an album that demands to be considered on its own terms, as it intends to highlight a communal experience rather than a band’s popularity. Rather than laud themselves, Titus Andronicus instead chose to honor the fans and friends who fostered their creativity and helped them on the path to success. That they sound great doing it is just a bonus for the rest of us.