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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Live: After Austin, two tired bands handle themselves differently

Posted by on Thu, Mar 26, 2009 at 2:05 PM

click to enlarge Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles at Local 506 (Photo: Allie Mullin)
  • Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles at Local 506 (Photo: Allie Mullin)

Titus Andronicus, Here We Go Magic

Tuesday, March 24

Local 506

How do you know when you’re back from South by Southwest? You’re sick, and the more prominent buzz bands from the year’s festival are rolling up Interstate 95 on their way back to Brooklyn. Wednesday night, two of those bands—New York’s Here We Go Magic and Glen Rock, N.J.’s Titus Andronicus—stopped together at Local 506.

Here We Go Magic played about one half-dozen shows in Austin. Even before their 45-minute set began, frontman Luke Temple admitted that, post-SXSW, he was worse for the wear. “I lost my voice somewhere in Austin,” he said. The five-piece reconfigured slightly, then, seeming to double and triple Temple’s vocal parts where he might have otherwise handled them himself. But Temple’s voice, manifesting its exhaustion through a gruff bristle, actually added a welcome bit of grit to songs otherwise lacking just that. Temple’s previously released two well-regarded albums under his own name, and Here We Go Magic stretches his more traditional melodies with influences distinctly German (Neu!, Tangerine Dream), African (Dr. Nico, Ali Farka Touré) and American (insert folk-pop bro here). Two female instrumentalists—one playing keyboard, the other bass—and one male guitarist sang with Temple, generally backing him but sometimes circling beneath his voice in cooing fits and starts. Depending on your tastes or level of cynicism, that likely sounds either awful or awesome.

Unfortunately, though, Wednesday’s set proved it to be neither, as Temple’s simple songs—which, lyrically, seem all but bereft of anything but effortless vagaries—adulterate those outsider influences until there’s little left but smoke and mirrors.

click to enlarge Here We Go Magic's Luke Temple (Photo: Allie Mullin)
  • Here We Go Magic's Luke Temple (Photo: Allie Mullin)

The Dirty Projector’s Dave Longstreth works similar guitar ideas into pop songs with more finesse and skill, and the night’s spacey moment felt like half-hearted attempts to get “out.” Indeed, the spry “Fangala” sounded like the worst side of Yeasayer which sounds like the worst side of a slightly psychedelic Toto, while the set’s closer fused a bit of blue-eyed soul into Temple’s direct march. Just “Only Pieces,” the opening cut from Here We Go Magic, seemed to commit to an interesting idea, its gradually stacked vocals offering setting up a slow, magnetic instrumental crescendo. It was the set’s early—and, ultimately, only—peak.

Speaking of commitment, one gets the sense watching Titus Andronicus play these same dozen songs—for, what, the twelfth time in a week?—that this music—an unholy mix of punk and noise and poems and nonchalant pop—is exactly what these five Jersey boys were born to rock. Despite one of the busier Austin itineraries, which kept frontman Patrick Stickles shouting “Fuck you” or singing “I was born into self-actualization/ I knew exactly who I was” until the wee hours of Sunday morning at Vice Magazine’s closing party, Titus Andronicus seemed thrill to be playing its second set since leaving Texas.

click to enlarge Titus Andronicus drummer Eric Harm (Photo: Allie Harm)
  • Titus Andronicus drummer Eric Harm (Photo: Allie Harm)

Drummer Eric Harm, who treats his drums like they’re the punching bag in the next Rocky, powered the band from behind, its three-guitar fuzz battling for speaker space with Stickle’s well-read and still-pissed conjecture. Since Titus’s first Triangle appearance at the now-defunct Ringside in 2007, I’ve seen this band play seven times. Last night, after being convinced exactly how much they mean songs this good after being worn that thin by parties for publications and promoters, I’m only hoping it doesn’t take me that long to see them seven more times.

Here We Go Magic returns to the Triangle to open for Grizzly Bear Thursday, June 12, at 9 p.m.

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