- Patrick Stickles
New York-based punks Titus Andronicus never got the memo about short, easy songs. Their music bristles with the energy and condemnation of classic punk, but it tends toward the anthemic, with two-part rock operas, the album-spanning “No Future” song series, and sprawling tracks like Local Business’ nine-minute-long album closer, “Tried to Quit Smoking.” In true punk fashion, they refuse to conform to genre norms, and their live shows are blistering showcases for too-proficient-for-punk musicianship. Titus Andronicus was one of the first bands to play the Hi-Tone at its new location on Cleveland, and they return this Wednesday (exactly one week before Halloween) for a concert with Ted Leo & the Pharmacists.
Home Alone (On Halloween), out on Merge Records. Both releases sport a Bob Dylan cover, and both showcase a band of confident musicians showing off their classic rock chops. While A Productive Cough delves deeply into the personal, the horror-themed Home Alone finds the band trying on fright masks and B-horror-movie capes, and taking their time with two long songs and a cover.
Home Alone, like A Productive Cough, has a Memphis connection in the “further additional engineering” done by Jeff Powell and Wesley Graham at Sam Phillips Recording Services. The three-song EP opens with sound clips of thunder and rain on the titular track, a
reimagining of a song from A Productive Cough. Hinges squeak eerily when Matt Miller sings “I open the door, ‘Honey, I’m home,’ but honey’s not home. I’m home alone.” Rick Steff makes sparing use of a Hammond B-3 organ, playing warbling, horror-movie chords and runs. It’s “The Monster Mash” or Jumpin’ Gene Simmons’ “Haunted House” for fans of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper. Shakers shimmying low in the mix, booming guitar riffs doubled on cello, and big, flamboyant drumming by Chris Wilson all conjure a ’70s vibe, while the sound effects and low timbre of Miller’s voice are straight out of a Sivad-hosted monster movie marathon. The end result is infectious and an instant classic of the holiday, an autumn earworm about jumping at shadows when home alone on the scariest night of the year.
Band leader Patrick Stickles takes over lead vocals on “Only a Hobo,” a faithful rendition
of an early-’60s song by Bob Dylan (1963 according to a mimeographed page of sheet music, though some Dylan aficionados argue the track dates to 1962). The band strips down to acoustic guitar and harmonica, offering a moment’s respite before the 16-minute-long album closer.
“A Letter Home” is moody and slow, with guitar chords muted and then ringing out, and
Steff takes full advantage of the B-3. Stickles is in full form, back on vocals again, as he sings, “I haven’t had visitors in six consecutive winters, and I have seven children and a wife.” With the chorus, the song kicks into an up-tempo, organ-driven jam with Stickles almost gleefully singing about loneliness and isolation, the EP’s recurring lyrical motifs, sounding like some ancient vampire self-exiled in a crumbling castle atop a Carpathian mountain peak. The song pinballs back and forth between the jaunty choruses and haunting verses, like a letter written by a monster made manic by solitude and loneliness. The track — and the EP — ends with Stickles listing a P.O. Box and imploring the listener to write him back. But I won’t give away the number here. That would spoil it. I have a feeling that, like trick-or-treaters’ candy on Halloween or a rescue from loneliness, that treasure has to be earned.
Titus Andronicus with Ted Leo & the Pharmacists at the Hi-Tone, Wednesday, October 24th, 8 p.m. $15