The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Bluebird last week was that the band on stage looked like kids that should be practicing in their parents basement. Long hair, skinny jeans, vintage Def Leppard t-shirts from 1992 (!!!????)…dirty, greasy, wannabe rock stars from Nowhere, USA. Not what I expected from these indie pop-rockers from Philly.
Free Energy have a tight, clean sound on their debut album, Stuck on Nothing, that made me expect a Killers or Vampire Weekend look. But once I got over the shock, I realized their sound was made for the stage. Those perfectly produced pop songs really came to life in a live setting. They weren’t clean, they weren’t tight…they were messy and sprawling and just plain fun…and their cover of Springsteen‘s I’m Goin’ Down with Patrick Stickles destroyed Vampire Weekend‘s version of The Boss‘s 1984 hit. This performance alone was worth the $5 entrance fee!
Titus Andronicus took the stage just before 9:30 with a special introduction from an intoxicated fan who got on stage and recited line-for-line the Civil War speech that opens their latest album, The Monitor, before diving into the crowd as Patrick busted into the opening lines of A More Perfect Union where he channels Springsteen again with ‘tramps like us, baby we were born to DIE!’
The night ended up being a punk rock extravaganza! Sing-along songs, mosh pits, and perfect lines like ‘all I want for Christmas is no feelings’, ‘you’ll always be a loser’ and ‘I’m sorry mama, gotta get fucked up’…which most of the crowd did without apology.
I know I bring up energy a lot when talking about shows, but I haven’t felt this kind of energy since I used to go to punk shows every weekend as a kid in San Diego (back in those days of old when Def Leppard released Adrenalize).
When you get past the nasal vocals, the way Patrick holds his guitar down low like Mike Ness and the political overtones…the punk comparisons end. These guys perform songs that push the 10 minutes mark, they obviously hold Springsteen on a pedastal and they prefer beards and long hair to mohawks and peircings. They also have an amazing violin player, Amy Klein, who might also be the happiest guitar player I have ever seen in music.
To be honest, I am writing this review a week later and after a big trip out to Tahoe, so I’m a little scatterbrained on the details. But I do remember it being one of the most diverse crowds I have seen at the Bluebird. 16-year-old kids, hipsters, guys in their 30s, 40s, 50s, a guy in a full suit and more girls that I have ever seen at a show of this type. It was nice to see this diversity and to see this band get the exposure they deserve.
The show ended with Four Score and Seven and the band left the stage with no encore at 10:49…not that one was needed after that hour and a half set!
Call their music whatever you like, just don’t make the mistake I did many times in San Francisco and miss them if they come through town!