Maybe unintentionally, but without question, in 2010, Patrick Stickles and his band Titus Andronicus released one of the best drinking, singalong, and quotable records of the decade in The Monitor.
This year (well, OK, technically last year) marked the 10th anniversary of Titus Andronicus’ sophomore record, the band’s landmark release, prompting the anniversary tour that would bring them to the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA for not one, but two sets (in one night). We’ll go into the second set here, but aside from a single cover present in the first (a rollicking opening rendition of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”), the set lists were identical: The Monitor, in full, glorious front to glorious back.
Disclaimer: I’ve had lyrics from this record tattooed on me since the spring of 2016. The Monitor hits listeners in different ways when they individuals dive into it—how could it not? It’s littered with lines and phrases that could serve as any lede in a story about the record or the band, could be blasted onto a poster or scribbled in a heavy hand in a notebook or tagged on a freaking wall or made into a pennant or flag—hell, I had an extremely socialist friend of mine in the audience with me screaming the Abraham Lincoln quotes that were played over the PA.
So yeah, going over the setlist would be … kinda dumb. But. Some highlights for you.
- Almost TOO on-the-nose, and maybe this is Stickles trying to take the piss, but a fair amount of the pre-show playlist consisted of old-timey Civil War battle hymns, and the band’s walkup music was “Civil War” by Guns N’ Roses. Can’t make this shit up.
- At one point during the set, audience members towards the front of the crowd brandished a full-size New Jersey state flag, just adding to the overall “Jersey-ness” of the night.
- A two-song departure from the recorded versions of “Theme From Cheers” and “To Old Friends and New” complete with (see photos) a TA-crew member playing the tour’s own Sam Malone while Stickles belted out lyrics, pounded High Lifes, and monologued about life, struggles, and his time as a Somerville, MA resident while writing The Monitor. Yes. This also means that we of Massachusetts can claim this record as ours.
- Thought Titus Andronicus couldn’t get any more Jersey? Think again. Following the last ringing chord of “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” (the pivotal Civil War battle of the first two ironclad warships from where this record gets its name), the bearded frontman removed his sweat-soaked t-shirt and replaced it with a Scott Stevens New Jersey Devils sweater for an encore revisiting album opener “A More Perfect Union.”
I’m struggling now between sticking true to my original draft of this review with wanting to frame The Monitor in the context of the current state of the country. Mostly because it’s littered with prescient goddamn quotes from Abraham Lincoln (see “if destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.”)
Look, I’ll try to avoid it. The whole night the audience screamed every word, bound in rapt, fist-pumping, cheap beer-tossing ecstasy from hearing what I consider an essential punk rock, albeit sometimes esoteric commentary on the country as a whole. It’s kind of funny and borderline ironic to see the band playing this record in full. Stickles has gone on the record ranking this album on the lower end of the list in terms of how he views Titus Andronicus records. At the same time, in all my years seeing the band live, they’ve never shied away from playing “the hits” off this record (the lone exception being “Theme from Cheers”…they never play that).
So. Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. Time heals all. <insert platitude here>. All that being said, if Patrick Stickles is in any way bummed about The Monitor being The Record that Titus Andronicus is most well-known for, these gigs don’t show it. Because he’s playing these songs like someone who damn well knows he wrote one of the greatest indie rock records of the last few decades.