The weekend before last, I made an excursion to Louisville to see my fellow New Jerseyans, Titus Andronicus. I was recently introduced to this band through a gift of their The Airing of Grievances (2008), and I’d been digging the album (especially My Time Outside the Womb, Titus Andronicus, and No Future Part Two: The Days After No Future), so I was looking forward quite a bit to the show.
The evening got off on the wrong foot, however, as I sauntered into Headliners about 9:40 to find Titus Andronicus already playing. It hadn’t occurred to me that the band I wanted to see would not necessarily be the headliner (which was the Memphis-based Lucero). I also seem to have lost my feel for concert timing: I was working on the assumption that no self-respecting hipster venue lets any music start before 10pm. So I was wrong on two counts, which cost me at least a couple songs worth of entertainment.
As for the show itself, it was, honestly, kind of a letdown. Musically they were good. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say tight, because that's not really the sound Titus Andronicus is going for, but definitely together. Vocals were pretty sloppy though: ranging from OK-I-guess-sloppy-can-be-an-aesthetic to ouch-this-is-kind-of-embarrassing. I couldn’t quite decide if the lead singer was actually stumbling drunk or if it was just part of his schtick (I am leaning toward the former), but I’ve reached the stage of old-fogeydom where I find such antics immature and tiresome. At times, they managed to cohere into the angry cyclone of sound that one would hope for from them; but these flashes of brilliance didn’t last very long. At the risk (well, certainty) of sounding condescending, I have some hope that if they can stay together and grow up a little, they could make for a great live act. My fingers are crossed for them.
The actual headliners, Lucero, were sort of interesting. I’d never heard of them; Wikipedia calls them country-punk, which seems accurate enough. I spent the beginning of their set doing my best to dislike them in retaliation for Titus Andronicus not being the top bill, but somewhere past the midpoint I managed to get into it a little. Even at their worst, they managed a brand of country rock that I’ll admit is competent even if I don’t especially like it. I think mainly, I had difficulty with the lead singer, whose primary vocal style seems to take its inspiration from Wolfman Jack (or, to be more generous, a more gravelly version of Marah). I liked him best when he forgot to do that. The lead guitarist from Titus Andronicus joined in on a few songs to good effect. The singer did too but seemed even more embarrassingly drunk/incoherent than in their own set.
Maybe part of my grousing has to do with the crowd, too. A bad crowd demeanor can really put me off a show, and there was an unpleasant ratio of beefy redneck-looking types posed with one arm perpetually raised and clutching a beer bottle as they cheered songs about drinkin’ and chasin’ women. I got to watch one guest get escorted out the door in a headlock. Again, I’m past the point where all this aggression and machismo is anything but off-putting.
Perhaps the most distressing thing about the concert is that it was the third straight time I've come away from a show at Headliners feeling disappointed. One of these was The Hold Steady a few years ago, which I’ve already written about, and the other was Vampire Weekend last fall. Three quite different bands, three quite different crowds, all vaguely dissatisfying. Am I just getting too old for the club scene? Are Those Kids Today ruining the scene? Am I just setting the bar too high? Is Headliners cursed? Am I? I really don’t know. I've got semi-formed plans to go see Wussy play in Columbus later this month, and I’m hoping to change my luck there.