I cannot remember the last time I have felt so liberated and so joyful at the same time. Sartre said, “Man is condemned to be free.” Navigating the world for so long on my own, I often feel the weight of that damning freedom of choice. It sounds fun, I’m sure, to be free to do whatever you want whenever you want to do it (so long as you have the dough to make it go). Such is the life of liberated solitude. But there is a prison of selfness that exists within this liberated state. It carries with it an inevitably unshared joy. Writing to you now my lovelies, relieves me from having to carry around such enjoyment and having no one to share it with–you are someone, thus I will share it with you.
Tonight I was at Motorco to see Titus Andronicus. A friend of mine hooked up the entry for your broke and humble Editor, thus enabling me to enter the familiar music hall for what would be a wholly blissful night.
I arrived shortly before 9PM and had my ritual shot of Jameson. Afterwards, I made my way to the front of the crowd to behold what would turn out to be an hour+ long set from the prolific Ted Leo. At this point in the night I did not know I would be penciling this prose you’re reading now. I did not know that on this Saturday night I would be swept from my feet and cast into a state of liberty. I had gone to the show for personal fulfillment, not for journalism. But here now, at Accordion Club, where me, my tinnitus, and my Genesee Cream Ale are authoring these words, I am weightless.
Ted Leo, known most widely as the frontman for Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, came to Motorco with an electric guitar and a proclivity for inspired stage banter. “I want you to think of the show, lyrically, as a jazz show,” he spoke in jest to the crowd. Throughout the night, the former Northeasterner and rock man extraordinaire delivered an authentic human experience. Any live show carries with it a measure of vulnerability. If you are an artist who has performed your work, whatever it might be, in front of humans known or unknown, then you accept that you are putting yourself out there, fuckups and all. This sentiment came to fruition during a cover of a Mount Moriah song. Handing a page of lyrics to a youngster in the front row (probably about ten years old and accompanied by his parents), Ted said, “I’m going to do a cover I’ve never played before. Can you hold this lyrics sheet for me?” Boldly and confidently, the young punk filled his role as a music stand for a man who, after initially fucking up the song, performed an inspired cover for the captivated audience. Over an hour after his set began, Ted announced, “This is my last song,” at which point Titus Andronicus rushed to the stage, picked up their instruments, and played as Ted’s backing band. It was solid fucking gold, y’all.
Shortly before the Titus set began, I shook hands with the illustrious Ted Leo, who like me transplanted from the bilious Northeast. At the end of the show, Patrick, the frontman for Titus Andronicus, and I would share a similar moment of mutual lament about the once-hip-now-dead Boston, the city which, in its former artistry, had raised me right along with my parents.
Sometimes when writing these post-show musings I feel very acutely the limitation of language. Why must I conceptualize real life human experience into this stupid limiting written word? (Says the writer.) Nothing I can say will truly recreate the experience of being there–no matter how good the writing is. I understand very well that I am forever condemned to contradiction. But I can tell you that at this moment my cheeks hurt from smiling too hard. My knees are aching from standing so long and my ears are still ringing from a night of raucous noise. It’s 5AM and I can’t stop writing. What does that say? Possessed I am, of inspiration. Still, the physical toll of the gonzo lifestyle is very real. The older I get, the more acutely I feel it. But, to quote the original disciple of Gonzo Journalism, the immortal Hunter S. Thompson, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’” I think the same could be said for the lives of artists, especially of those Titus Andronicus fellas, whose unencumbered and totally clamorous ways must exact an incredible physical toll. But oh my, what a spectacle they are.
But I digress. Or do I?
Patrick took the stage alone to begin the Titus set. With an electric guitar and a message about respecting space, he instantly invited the crowd into an inclusive show experience. Several minutes later the rest of the band joined him on stage and together they proceeded to play for nearly two and a half hours. Yes, you read that correctly. Their set was well over two hours long. Talk about “an incredible physical toll.” Although, Patrick’s energy was so intense at the end of the set that I suspect he would have just kept playing.
The first part of their set was like listening to a greatest hits compilation. The crowd, already hyped up by Ted Leo’s captivating set, was instantly wild, emotion flooding the music hall and saturating the stage area. Patrick’s witty and familiar stage banter seemed to curate the setlist as the middle part of set turned out to be a series of covers. Citing a compilation record of Bristol, UK punk from 1980 that they had found “in a dollar bin,” the band played three songs off the album, the name of which I regrettably did not write down. (I was busy having too much fun.) Patrick went on to talk about the excessive extra time the band has while on tour. During some of that downtime last week, he told us, they had watched a film “on no TV channel you’ve ever heard of” at their hotel. In a gloriously punk gesture, they went on to play two songs from that soundtrack, to the delight and amusement of the audience. Following this eclectic string of covers, the band played several tracks from their new record, A Productive Cough, released earlier this year on their Durham-based label Merge Records. It was 12:30AM when the set seemed to clamorously conclude, and all of the band members exited the stage, except for Patrick. In a whimsically half-staged half-haphazard gesture, he summoned his bandmates back onto the stage for one final song in a sort of-encore. Unlike most other bands who do an encore, Titus Andronicus did not make us wait. The energy in the room was so high and no one, it seemed, wanted to leave, including Patrick. By 12:45AM the show had finally reached its end.
I stood by the front of the stage for a little while, my hearing a bit numbed, while I took some time to absorb the totally WOW experience I had just had. Eventually I walked over to the bar to close my tab, slowly, as if unwilling to let the night end.
On my way out of Motorco, I saw Patrick standing by the exit greeting fans, giving out hugs, and mingling with smitten passersby. I decided to say hello to the esteemed frontman. I introduced myself and we shook hands for several minutes while conversing about times past, the Boston days, when I had seen them play for the first time. “What were you doing in Boston?” he asked me. “I used to live there.” “Me too,” he said. We agreed that I am better off here in Durham. I suggested he would be too. “It was a pleasure to meet you,” I said as we shook hands again. “Believe me,” he said as he put his hand on my arm, “the pleasure is all mine.” Well golly gee whiz Patrick, I think I might be blushing.
After leaving the venue, I made my way over to Accordion Club, ambling in the street as if on air with a smile permanently affixed to my face. Along the brief journey to the bar I bumped into my friend Cool Boy 36. I was distracted by my blushing and bliss and did not see him walking towards me. “You caught me,” I said to him, “walking on a cloud.”
When I eventually returned home, I sat down at my desk and immediately continued writing this piece which I had begun to compose at the bar. Now here, at the drowsy end, I am still glowing. I suspect I will still be glowing when I wake later this morning or perhaps in the afternoon. Nights like these–unexpected and gloriously joyful–are all too rare, but when they do happen I feel compelled to share.
Thank you for reading.
All my love,