With security guards taking residence around the stage, DC’s Rock ‘n Roll Hotel braced itself for an unlikely pairing of punk-rock-pop-party debauchery. “WARNING: guaranteed shit show tonight! Hope you are all ready to party….hard!” the venue wrote before the show. They weren’t kidding.
Openers Free Energy may soon have another deal to add under their belt, besides just being produced by the legendary James Murphy. Given the unadulterated rock and roll lovefest they brought to the stage, their hometown of Philadelphia may soon be seeking them as spokespeople for the city of brotherly love. The 70s loving, long-haired quintent, were unapologetic in their references to Cheap Trick and Phil Lynott, without feeling anything like a cover band. Lead singer Paul Sprangers got on stage with gangly-limbed dance moves and Johansen-esque microphone caresses. His bandmates joined in on the action, with guitarist Scott Wells parading around on stage smiling and whipping his hair, walking over to his actual brother, bassist Evan Wells, as they jammed in all their classic rock glory. Even the punk-rocker headliners Titus Andronicus couldn’t resist, joining FE on stage for a duet of Springsteen’s ‘I’m Going Down.” As Sprangers and Patrick Stickles embraced, somewhere in Philadelphia the mayor picked up the phone.
When Titus Andronicus took the stage and Stickles sounded the first chords of “A More Perfect Union’ the audience rumbled forward. Within seconds both the stage and the mosh pit-once-floor were drenched in sweat. Strickles may seem like the unlikely leader, but it is a position he doesn’t simply assume, but commands both with his intelligence and brute force. He knows his musical back-story (Well, almost. He taunted with a few chords of ‘Waiting Room’ before admitting he didn’t know the rest), his historical context (a band named after Shakespeare and a concept album using the Civil War as social commentary) and he understands how to fill the left over cracks of a disillusioned generation. Sure, there are other bands that tackle the millennial generation promised everything which then added up to nothing. But TA do it will a nihilistic this-ship-is-going-down-and-we’re-going-with-you guttural yell.
While much credit is given to Strickles, the contributions of Amy Klein should not go unnoticed. In a seeming boys-club she stomps on stage and beats them at their own game. She screams, she yells, she plays classical violin. Klein’s talents, which expand far beyond a concert hall, easily nominate her as a voice of this age in the same way Kathleen Hanna stormed the 90s. After joining in for one of Free Energy’s songs, a band member said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the remarkable Amy Klein.” Such a phrase was perhaps the only understated thing about the night. While the night certainly produced a few bruises, one simply could not shake the feeling of one big happy anarchist-punk-pop-screw the titles-family amongst all the musicians. Throughout TA’s set, Free Energy eagerly waited in the wings, bobbing their heads and heckling from the sidelines. It would hardly be a surprise if tour dates were soon released for “The Titus Andronicus Free Energy Family Band.” (Free T&A is also in the running). Yet despite any potential title changes perhaps the best note can be taken from the headliner’s namesake: “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”; regardless of any formalities, these guys would still rock.