The ideal time to get into Titus Andronicus is somewhere between 14 and 17 years old. Nobody does suburban rebellion and revival punk the way they do, and they keep charging forward in a way that begs for more fists to be thrown into the air, for more DIY spaces to open up, for more friendships to be formed over shared CDs and pre-show conversation about a need to fight back against a system you’re only just learning is horribly corrupt. The New Jersey punks have a spirit within them that can’t be put out. Live, that spirit sparks into a full-on fire, finding fun in flipped middle fingers and sweat-stained shirts. Titus Andronicus’ live renditions are like a pub sing-a-long to Thin Lizzy at peak drunkenness, where you feel unlimited because of the communal power you become a part of. It’s cheap catharsis with a call to arms and, in that moment, you never want it to end.
So it’s fitting that, some ten years into their career, Titus Andronicus roll out a live album. S+@dium Rock: Five Nights at the Opera is an ode to their work, to the energy, to the people who can’t drive out to shows or get in because of age limits but need a messy, guitar-heavy liberation all the same. The selections from their sold-out Shea Stadium shows in Brooklyn give energy to the songs of 2015 rock opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy. That five-act, 29-song release was successful in its adventurousness, but, naturally, is daunting in length and emotion, occasionally lacking the final kick needed to convince you to roll the windows down, to belt the songs with friends, to feel temporarily immortal. S+@dium Rock acts as a solution, shrinking the play into 11 songs that tally up to 45 minutes total.
When songs are published at high quality, they come across as high quality, too. From the start of opener “Dimed Out” on through to “Fatal Flaw” and the insane solos of “Stranded (On Our Own)”, the live record burrows deep into the pulse of Titus Andronicus. The guitar tones and rhythm section are recorded perfectly. Shouted harmonies on “I Lost My Mind” sound crass. The tempo of “Into the Void (Filler)” seems to speed up enigmatically. S+@dium Rock is an ode to Titus Andronicus and their ability to master the art of live punk rock. Not only are you at the show, but you’re standing in the perfect audiophile spot without missing the moshing.
With any live show comes error. Several slower numbers on The Most Lamentable Tragedy lose their steam in the live setting. “69 Stones” draws a yawn and the tempo shifts in “Lonely Boy”, an otherwise jovial eight minutes of guitar solos, weaken an otherwise epic song. A great deal of Titus Andronicus’ live appeal comes from the immersion of older cuts. With one part promo push, one part time constraint, S+@dium Rock doesn’t bother including them. Instead of “A More Perfect Union”, there’s “Sun Salutation”. Titus Andronicus certainly deserve a live album, but it needs to be done properly, a recording of a full performance that their 2012 and 2015 self-released mixtapes can’t solve but, as with all good free offerings, substitute just fine in the meantime.
The five-night cherry-pickings are a fun listen, but Titus Andronicus need to make a descision: include properly ordered acts to squeeze the most out of The Most Lamentable Tragedy or include older hits to squeeze the most from a typical Titus Andronicus set. If the Jersey crew can make the slower numbers sound more amusing live, then maybe they can get back on track to find that original rebellion inside of them and, in turn, inside all of us.
Essential tracks: “Stranded (On Our Own)”, “Fatal Flaw”, and “Into the Void (Filler)”