Monthly Archives: December 2012

Click for music video.

There’s an absolute blue streak of a song called “My Year In Lists” by Los Campesinos! off their generally hyper 2008 debut Hold On Now, Youngster… And, even though it’s four years old now, the song has inspired me to think about my year, in lists.

Defining Moments and Experiences

  • Driving from Davidson to Chicago to Denver to San Francisco to Seattle: This was crazy. Davidson to Asheville (where we stayed with the Noreña/Eggleston/Leahy collective), to Nashville (Mrs. Jessie Parker Early, from whom I have not yet recovered my lost Wittgenstein book), to Chicago (four awesome days at the Andersons’), to Des Moines (late-night IHOP), to Lake Saylorville (camp stove in the hotel parking lot), to Denver (Bon Iver at Red Rocks), to Salt Lake City (where I nearly broke Lexi’s leg), to Danville (I get to unload all my stuff), to Manchester State Beach (amazing sunset), Humboldt (amazing sunset, II), somewhere in southern Oregon (playing Bjork really loud in the car, rain in the tent), Portland (speaking French with Gabi’s bird), and finally Seattle. Totally epic.

  • The Net Impact ConferenceThis was really cool just because it was my first really big professional experience. The Baltimore conference was a lot of work–more work than, looking back, it’s possible to believe we ever got done. But it was also a lot of fun.

  • Pictureplane Is Playing At My House: One day last spring, every college kid’s dream came true for me. As a member of WALT, Davidson’s college radio station, I had been involved in organizing a music festival featuring four touring artists. Of course when the show ends we’ve got to have a party… so it was really awesome when Travis Egedy, AKA Pictureplane, came up and asked where the after-party was going to be at. I frantically told someone to go buy “a lot of beer” and texted everyone I knew. An hour and a half later my apartment was packed; I was tossing PBR to anyone I could find; Marie was hanging off the balcony; and Lexi was pouring vodka shots for Travis, who was gluten-free. He dropped “Just Like Heaven” and it was, indeed, just like heaven.
  • Joining the band: I was able to realize a not-so-secret ambition to play music with a band. Early in the year I joined up with my bros Ben and Tyler to jam as Horse Cock, and soon after that got a gig with Ben as the rhythm section for Great American Kitsch. Getting on stage for the first time was thrilling, and I can’t wait to do it again. I only hope I’ll have the chance.

Tyler Hayden Chelsie Lyndsey at Inauguration

  • Academic achievement and peer recognition: I accomplished what I set out to do in writing my thesis. Since I committed to anthropology as an undergraduate I knew I wanted to write an honors thesis, and I was really proud to earn the high honors distinction. I was even more honored by the peer recognitions that came about towards the end of my Davidson career. I’d mostly felt like I’d been a side character for most of my four years, but it was validating to see that my peers saw me as a leader in the environmental movement by voting me to Omicron Delta Kappa and the superlative of “most likely to live in a solar house.” It is really important to me to be the change I wish to see in the world, so this was really wonderful.

  • Unemployment: So I know what it’s like to be unemployed now, and it blows. It’s super boring. It’s been a major feature of this year,  but not by design (though I do hold some of the blame).
  • Two transcendent concert experience: This year I went to probably my two favorite concerts ever. As great as each one was, they were pretty different. I went to one with my best friend; for the other I went alone. One was outdoors, one was indoors. There were several thousand people at one and maybe a hundred and fifty at the other. For the first, we sat or stood in one place, a hundred yards from the stage; for the other I thrashed, jumped, pogoed, and generally sweated right up on the stage. Bon Iver’s dreamscapes on the one hand, and the pummeling gutter-punk anthems of Titus Andronicus on the other.
  • Graduation: The total rush of experience, scripted too well. Staying up all night before we got kicked out of our apartment. Families we’re born into and ones we build over four years. Taking to the stage, barefoot. One last Sangam buffet. Small departing rituals. Sprinting down the gravel causeway, the moon my only witness, to be the first one into the lake.

  • The Ferris Wheel: Hard to put into words, but the week I visited Lexi before her departure for the Watson year was really memorable. I’ll never forget how terrifying and exhilarating it was to go up in the newly-constructed Seattle Ferris Wheel, entirely on a whim.

  • The “Bernie Lean” 2012 A’s: For whatever reason, I followed this club more intensely than ever, and as my enthusiasm grew so did the team’s winning ways. They were a bunch that was incredibly easy to like–goofy, earnest, and intense all at once. I was at game 161, when the A’s won at home to set up the showdown with the Rangers the next day, and I was at game 164, when the A’s came back in the ninth off Valverde to win. A really memorable season that reminded me why I follow sports.
  • Medusa: I tend to think of about twenty-five projects for every one that I actually start. So my progress on a novella, based on the Medusa myth and transplanted to the modern day, is really encouraging. I hope I can keep it up!

Top Listens of 2012 by Song:

Modest Mouse — 3rd Planet — 46

Radiohead — Karma Police — 35

Girls — Lust for Life — 31

Yo La Tengo — Nothing to Hide — 27

Toro y Moi — Still Sound — 27

Bon Iver – Holocene — 25

Radiohead — Jigsaw Falling Into Place — 24

Broken Social Scene — Lover’s Spit — 22

The Beatles — Don’t Let Me Down — 22

The Flaming Lips — Race for the Prize (Remix) — 22

Deerhunter — Nothing Ever Happened — 22

LCD Soundsystem — Someone Great — 22

Nick Drake — Northern Sky — 20

Tortoise — Gamera — 20

M83 — Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun — 20

Best Live Shows of 2012:

10. Neko Case & Phantogram (tie)

9. Kids These Days

8. Christopher Owens

7. Cloud Nothings

6. We Hart Live Music

5. Dirty Projectors

4. Spiritualized

3. Feist

2. Animal Collective

1. Titus Andronicus & Bon Iver (tie)

Top Listens of 2012 by Artist:

 Bob Dylan
2 Play 579
3 Play  405
4 Play 387
5 Play  357
6 Play  339
7 Play
8 Play  302
9 Play  289
10 Play
11 Play  219
12 Play  213
13 Play  207
14 Play  199
15 Play  198

Let’s say you’re in a room. It’s a medium sized room, and mostly undecorated. There are no windows, doors, no television, no books. There is a bed against one wall. Across from it there is a table. The table is of fine mahogany, and it is impeccably appointed with the nicest set of china imaginable. The curious thing about the table is that three times daily–at your general mealtimes–there appear on the plate the most amazing pancakes. These pancakes are fantastic. Every time you eat them they are the best pancakes you have ever eaten, and you never tire of the pancakes. You have the option of living in this room. You will eat the pancakes three times daily–with the best syrup, butter, whatever your ideal pancakes have on them–but you never get bored or obsessed with them, and you stay in great health. You’ll live in the room until you die a natural death of old age (the pancakes won’t give you an early heart attack or anything–you’ll just die a peaceful death whenever you’re meant to die). You are free to dream, imagine other worlds, soliloquize, do pushups, and so on, but you can’t leave the room.

Your other option is to die, right now. What is your choice?


The Brain–is wider than the Sky–

For–put them side by side–

The one the other will contain

With ease–and You–beside–

The Brain is deeper than the sea–

For–hold them–Blue to Blue–

The one the other will absorb–

As Sponges–Buckets–do–

The Brain is just the weight of God–

For–Heft them–Pound for Pound–

And they will differ–if they do–

As Syllable from Sound–

That’s basically my answer, except written by Emily Dickinson. Loves those dashes, Em does. (Get it?)

Most people answer with death, so an interesting way to extend the conversation is to ask them what would have to change about the room for them to accept the room over death. Would it be enough that they serve lasagna, or that the meals change? Or would they need a library? Would they accept the room if it had a television? A journal? Alternately, you can tell them that they’ve been put into a room like the one above, but that there’s a loaded gun there, too, and ask how long they think they’d go before pulling the trigger.

This one’s mine, by the way.

You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is 10 minutes on the moon.

Which option do you select?

That’s a clown question, bro.

I’m hesitant to even answer this question in its original form because I suspect there might be a typo.

On the one hand, you can go to the moon. The MOON. You could bounce around, realize all your childhood dreams, see a sky filled with more stars than you can imagine, and bring back moon rocks with alien diseases that will destroy humanity. Okay, hopefully not the last one. But this a) insanely cool, and b) something you almost certainly wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. You’re more likely to win a Nobel Prize than to walk on the moon; in fact, almost anything is more likely. Jesus had as many apostles as there are people who have walked on the moon (12). You basically get to break the rules of life to get to do this, and by all accounts it is a life-changing experience.

On the other hand, you can go to Europe. That sounds great, right? And they’ll pay you to do it! Well, first off, Europe isn’t the moon. But you get to be there for a year, rather than ten minutes! Well, the thing about that year is… you’re not going to be buying any principalities on that stipend. $2,000 a month? That’s $24,000 a year, which in America qualifies as borderline poverty level. If you’ve got visions of this Euro-trip as walking through your private gardens, fine dining in Barcelona, tasting wines in Bordeaux, all-night clubbing in Berlin, and so on… well, no. Because you’re basically going to be poor for a year. Did you know that the price of a beer in Oslo is £6.78? That’s $11.00 at the current rate of exchange. Have fun with that.

In this case, I’d roundly reject the Europe option. I’ve lambasted your stipend, but the truth is that you could have an absolutely awesome time on that money, and people do have an awesome time on that kind of money traveling in Europe. No, better money could help–we’ll talk about that in a second–but with the given hypothetical, I’d take the moon in a heartbeat.

The reason basically comes down to the fact that I don’t need this free choice in order to attain a year in Europe. If I wanted to do it, I could do it. I could get a job there, or even save up the $24,000–a lot of money, sure, but basically the price of a basic new car. You can have an Accord, or you can go to the moon. Accords are highly attainable. Going to the moon is not. Purely on the rarity of the experience, going to the moon is far more valuable. For the rest of your life you can say you went to the moon, or you can say, hey, I dicked around in Europe for a year… which is what a lot of people do.

Whoa, you could be like these guys! No way! Or you could be like NEIL ARMSTRONG.

I’m not trying to say people should reduce their decision-making process to “I should do whatever no one else has done,” because that would be crazy. But I’m just trying to bring out a particular point of emphasis in this question.

What would happen if we changed the question to a $20,000 stipend? Now the question becomes more interesting. $20,000 isn’t quite kingly, but it’s certainly a sumptuous sum for one person to spend a month. I actually don’t even know how you’d be able to spend that money, so that’s a separate hypothetical. Private jets? Wimbledon first-row? I don’t know. But the question now becomes more balanced, because it’s unlikely you’d be able to get this option on your own. It’s not quite as unlikely as going to the moon–in fact, nowhere close–but still far enough out of the realm of the imaginable for most of us.

So, would the extra money sway me? I almost wish it could. But it wouldn’t, and I don’t think an increase to $200,000 would make any difference, either (would that money even make a difference?). Going to the moon is a dream of mine, and if all I get is ten minutes so be it–it would still make my life.

Moon, final answer.

Yes, I said favorite. Not best. These are the ones I’ll take with me to 2013 and beyond. Pretty standard, but hey. In no particular order:

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance

Godspeed! You Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

The Walkmen – Heaven

Frankie Rose – Interstellar

Grizzly Bear – Shields

Purity Ring – Shrines

Bob Dylan – Tempest

Beach House – Bloom

Wild Nothing – Nocturne

Daniel Rossen – Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP

Angel Olsen – Half Way Home

Lower Dens – Nootropics

Jessica Pratt – Jessica Pratt

Grimes – Visions

The Men – Open Your Heart

Local Business – Titus Andronicus

Kill for Love – Chromatics

Swing Lo Magellan – Dirty Projectors

Centipede Hz – Animal Collective

Crystal Castles – (III)

You meet a wizard in downtown Chicago. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive if you pay him money. When you ask how this process works, the wizard points to a random person on the street. You look at this random stranger. The wizard says, “I will now make him one dollar more attractive.” He waves his magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all; as far as you can tell, nothing is different. But–somehow–this person is suddenly a little more appealing. The tangible difference is invisible to the naked eye, but you can’t deny that this person is vaguely sexier. This wizard has a weird rule, though–you can only pay him once. You can’t keep giving him money until you’re satisfied. You can only pay him one lump sum up front.

How much cash do you give the wizard?

If, against all semblance of good sense, you decide to Google “sex wizard,” this is what you’ll get.

With this hypothetical Klosterman has offered us a question that doesn’t appear to have any real answer. What do we know?

  1. The wizard’s power seems to be real.
  2. You can only pay the wizard once.
  3. The increase in attractiveness will not come from a drastic change in your actual physical makeup, but rather from some je ne sais quoi; it is perhaps less accurate to say that you become more attractive than to say that the world will find your appearance more attractive. It is the seer who changes, not the seen.

What don’t we know?

  1. We don’t know whether the effect on the stranger’s attractiveness was real or psychosomatic–I mean, did the stranger actually become more attractive, or did the power of suggestion make you think they did?
  2. The marginal value of a dollar in “attractiveness units.” Unfortunately, there is zero data for figuring this out; you’ve seen the stranger become more attractive, but even if that delta-attractiveness were quantifiable in units, you have no idea whether the change the wizard induced in the stranger would cost a dollar or a thousand.
  3. You also don’t know whether the thousandth dollar will have as much effect as the first.
  4. You don’t know whether it’s possible to overdose on attractiveness. If you give the wizard too much money, will you end up like Narcissus? Or will you be ripped to shreds by members of the opposite sex driven mad by lust? (Sorry to be a Debbie Downer–just looking at all the angles.)

There is also some information that will be particular to the individual. I don’t see this question as having much of an objective answer; like many hypotheticals, how the question is answered elucidates more about the answerer than the hypothetical. To that end, how important is it to you to become more attractive? If you’re already sexy as hell, even if you believed the wizard, you’d have no reason to give him any money; you’re already at the top. You could also care less if, like Diogenes, you live in a barrel and hang out with dogs while you pursue the philosophical life.

I get it, Channing. You can put your shirt back on now.

Now that I’ve brought up celebrity, though, you might think this stuff happens all the time, and especially in Blackhawk! (Sorry if that’s an irresponsibly local reference; it’s the rich part of Danville, which is the rich part of the East Bay, which is a rich part of the world, so, draw your own conclusions.) We’re appear to talking about plastic surgery–putting a price on beauty. However, there is a very interesting nuance to Mr. Klosterman’s formulation. While it could be that the physical change in the stranger is imperceptible, the wording–the tangible difference is invisible–leads me to suspect that we are talking about no actual change to your person.

This leads to some very puzzling questions. Perhaps you have qualms about changing your facial structure or getting your boobs done. You may consider these actions somehow untrue to your self, or an affront to your genes. Is there a difference between becoming more attractive through these ends and through the wizard’s work?

Let’s consider an extreme example. Let’s say you have a congenital malformation–we could even say you have a tail. The plastic-surgery version of the story has you getting the tail removed. The sex-wizard version of the story has people finding the tail sexy. This is obviously pretty far out, but each of us has imperfections; if you insert your personal imperfections as “tail,” there you have it. I expect that most people could understand an objection to the tail removal as “changing myself,” impinging on the essence of one’s own identity. The real question is, is the sex-wizard version of the question any different? Our identities are socially situated and negotiated, and our identity as much determined by how others see us as by how we consciously position ourselves. If these portions of our “identity,” to the extent that identity an isolable phenomenon, are commensurate, then the sex-wizard version–changing without changing–is just as offensive as the physical change.

This guy wrote: “To be good is to be in harmony with one’s self.” And: “to reform a nature is to mar it.”

We’ve delved deep into some nuances of this question and made very little headway into making an actual answer, mainly because, as I’ve shown, the answer will be highly dependent on individual values. The best I can do is tell you how I would answer the question. While I do not consider myself to be the kind of person that puts especial importance on attractiveness, my first impulse is to think that I would give the wizard money. How much? My thoughts have ranged from ten to a thousand dollars. I should note that this is not a logical response: logically, the only risk in my decision is if I make myself too attractive. Unfortunately, we have no rational indication that the scale upon which the wizard’s changes will be made corresponds in any way to the rest of the US market; a penny to the wizard might make me Brad Pitt (and therefore a dollar might have serious adverse effects), or it might do nothing. Therefore the risk-averse thing to do would be to not give the wizard any money at all (this would NOT be the case if I thought that my current state of attractiveness were an active hindrance to my well-being, which is in fact the state of mind that much of our country lives in, and thus cannot be discounted).

I’ve probably driven you insane by now with all this going in circles. I’ll take the out, be a literalist, and point out that the question says “how much cash would you give him?” As I rarely carry more than $30, I would say twenty bucks, knowing that this is in no way a satisfactory or rational answer.

This is a re-post from an old blog of the same name. I wrote it many years ago, and puzzle now as much over how I came to write this the way I did as I do over the themes it purports to explore.

The Confines of My Mind

            Here I am alone, excepting perchance Orion and Cassiopeia in the sky above. I am an island in the tempestuous sea of the wild. I am nearly a mile from another human, a speck of intelligence alien to the vast and rocky Sierran topography. Tonight I prove something; and though it may be of some notice to others, it is an internal battle I face tonight[1].

            Why I set myself against the forces of the wilderness is a larger question, whose answer lies in my very nature. In brief, I felt I could not know myself without the

challenge– like Oedipus exploring the mystery of his birth, ’twas a test perhaps alluring for its very existence. Could I withstand the torrents of nature? This was a query I could not allow to rest.

            I huddle around my humble fire. A solemnity I cannot laugh at sets in; ‘whistling past the graveyard’ is out of the question. This overwhelming blanket of graveness envelops me more tangibly than the approaching darkness, and I realize: this is Nature.

            Around me as well is the cold. It is so cold that I actually bury the embers of my fire and attempt to sleep on top of them. I have no sleeping bag, except the bundles of heather and pine needles I have prepared. Though the potential warmth of my tent beckons, I do not waver. My fortitude surprises me; though I have before braved such nights as these, I have always previously done so surrounded by encouraging comrades.

            My connate curiosity tells me introspection is requisite for growth, and my thoughts turn inward as I attempt to insulate myself from the external punishments I try to endure. In the wilderness it seems almost that I exist only in the confines of my mind as the impersonal breeze howls.

            No one is here to acknowledge my presence.

            Therein, however, lies a certain ironical comfort; I am alone, but I exist all the same. In the wilderness I am a self-defined entity amidst swirling disorder. Though the night roars on, I am still here. Under the stars so numerous, I am only one so small and my existence may be absurd but some solace comes from this. There is no order to this world except what I can set to it, and therefore, whatever I can possibly come up with is better than what I started off with.


* * * * *


            I survive the night. Though I cannot point specifically to one precise moment of epiphany or revelation, I do know that night was significant in ways difficult to explain. What I found that night was that there is beauty all around– not only in the sky above or the animals around but also in the everyday wilderness and the basic, fundamental, impossibly quotidian process of survival. I am reminded of the weakness of one human and the incomparable strength of many united. The experience is a simple reminder of the natural and intrinsic beauty of life, existence, and survival. I will forever appreciate life in both its humbling complexity and lucid simplicity– and finally, finally, I have fulfilled Emerson’s mandate: self-reliance.

            Of a greater pertinence, I realize that I was misguided in my approach to that night; steeling myself for a confrontation with some hostile idea of Nature was not the answer. I learned that attempting to master Nature as if it were some untamed beast is preposterous, for I am as much a part of Nature as any rock, lake, or wolf. To reach a peace with Nature one must first reach a peace with oneself. Whether I could withstand ‘the torrents of nature’ was irrelevant–what ultimately mattered was whether I could master not Nature, but myself.








[1] I underwent this ordeal in hopes of attaining the John Muir badge of the Boy Scouts, which signifies a stronger understanding of Man’s place within nature. The primary requirement is this night alone, without modern conveniences, absent of company from sundown to sunup, in which the Scout must write a poem, climb a tree, eat a loaf of bread (all of it), and brew tea from an indigenous plant (white fir, in my case).

Sometimes you learn about a new band from a friend’s radio show or a girlfriend’s mixtape. Sometimes you see them open for someone you already know and you’re instantly hooked. Most of the time it’s somehow a communal process.

The first time I heard Titus Andronicus, though, I was sitting by myself in Davidson College’s Sloan Music Library, January 2010. It was snarlingly cold, snowing outside and I was chilled to the bone. I was wasting time catching up on new music–I’d basically been out of the country since the prior June, and so totally missed The Monitor, Titus Andronicus’ sprawlingly ambitious sophomore album. Stumbling upon an online recommendation, I listened to the album’s first track, “A More Perfect Union”–then I listened to it twice more, catching a new reference and a new riff every time. It’s about the Civil War and highways and homesickness. It’s got an Abe Lincoln speech and turns the Battle Cry of Freedom into a life-affirming chant. The song has multiple sections, ambition to match Bruce Springsteen, and arena-ready electric guitars. Suffice to say that when I stood up I was warm, and I was definitely back in America.

Titus Andronicus, basically

*     *     *     *     *

Two years later, it was late November 2012, and I found myself happily in the possession of one ticket to see Titus Andronicus, now firmly established as critical darlings and legendary live performers. Local Business, Titus Andronicus’ third album, dropped October 22, to modest acclaim; neither the album nor the critical response it engendered were quite as rancorous. The album features fewer instruments and shorter songs, making it more restrained and focused than The Monitor and certainly cleaner-sounding than The Airing of Grievances. Nonetheless, the DIY focus and us-against-them mentality is present as ever, with headman Patrick Stickles taking the album launch as opportunity to inveigh against economic inequality.

From the music video to “In A Big City”

I left my San Francisco workplace to head to the show. Crushed by the commute hours masses, I couldn’t help but think of my favorite song from the new album, “In A Big City,” which explores the interzone between the excitement of the big city (“some of my dreams are coming true”) and its dehumanizing elements (“It’s easy turning me on/I’m nearly a robot”). Though I’d asked around plenty, most everyone had turned down any offer to join me on my description of Titus Andronicus as ‘punk’–apparently a dirty word amongst my cohort. Nonetheless, it felt fitting to be headed to the show alone–alone, as I had discovered Titus Andronicus, and as alone as Stickles’ narrator often seems. It was a bit of a rite of passage; I had never been to the Great American Music Hall, the show’s venue, which was supposed to be in a sketchy neighborhood. I figured braving the Tenderloin was the next step in my transfer from suburban neophyte to seasoned San Franciscan.

Despite my worries, I got to the venue just fine. In fact, I severely underestimated how long it would take for me to get there, and ended up being one of the first people in the door. The GAMH isn’t a large venue, but they do have excellent beers on tap, so I had a Uinta Black Lager and waited. When that was drained, I began to pace the floor; I think one guy thought I was on drugs and asked if I was okay. In fact, I was just thinking, and had been walking in circles almost without realizing it.

When I sat down, I saw that Stickles had taken his place behind the merch table. I had already been considering buying a Titus t-shirt; now seemed to be the time. The politics of such a transaction seemed bizarrely complex to me as I headed over to say hi and buy the shirt. In today’s world, with traditional revenue structures falling apart, bands increasingly rely on merch to make money. The piece on Grizzly Bear’s finances came to mind. I even noted that the shirt was American Apparel (on one hand, super comfy; on another, serious labor allegations).

Ed Droste, in the Grizzly Bear piece, notes that the band is “essentially a risky small business” for them. Stickles draws an explicit parallel between bands and small businesses both in interviews and with the title of the new album. With his frequently used hashtag #crushcapitalism, Stickles isn’t exactly the spokesman you’d expect for the power of the market. But DIY has strong affinities with a certain strain of capitalism–a highly ethical one, to be sure, but one still devoted to hard work and making money. Fugazi may have restricted their business methods, but they were still dedicated to moving inventory. In this light, Titus Andronicus become the perfect example of what capitalism–and America–can be. I bought the shirt. 

*     *     *     *     *

There were two openers that night, and both were kind of weird. Creative Adult I will remember mainly because their drummer was dressed as if he had just come from 7th grade gym class and because their singer now shares the award with Suckers for drunkest opener I’ve ever seen (the Suckers singer that night was wearing a dog-themed Snuggie and had penises drawn all over his face, so that says something). Support for hometown heroes Ceremony was strong. I had heard and liked some of their work–fairly hard and fast punk–but found their live presence bizarre. In my mind, punk stands opposite to prog, disdaining showmanship and solos, but Ceremony’s guitarists clearly relished the opportunity to show off their classic-rock moves, from high-kicking to windmilling.

In the interim between Ceremony and Titus Andronicus it became apparent that the crowd was nervous. People were antsy, milling towards the front and fidgeting around. The feeling of immense and feverish expectation was in the air as crowd members anxiously sized one another and the band up, worried for their vision of the night. I talked with a group who gushed over Amy Klein, a former band member who had left to found Permanent Wave, a national feminist collective. We were all pretty amped.

Just like that, though the concert started–I was near the front–and the next thing I knew the guy I’d been talking about BART schedules with five minutes ago was stage-diving onto my face.

The band ripped right into the righteous, rolling stomp-rock opener of their new album, “Ecce Homo,” with its now-infamous lines, “Okay I think by now we’ve established/Everything is inherently worthless.” The nightlong singalong began in earnest as arms flailed in the night’s first mosh pit.

On the face of it these words seem pessimistic, but for the crowd they were clearly a liberation soundtrack: an embrace of making your own way in a harsh world, but your own way nonetheless. The line rang especially true for me–it’s an idea I’ve turned over in my head plenty. The world has no objective, inherent, assigned purpose, and at first that’s not just scary, it’s terrifying. It means we’re alone with no apparent direction. But it also means we’re free to make our own lives, to find our own way. This is a band that named an entire song “Albert Camus,” so it’s clear they’re literate with the philosophical ramifications of existential nihilism. But in that immediate moment, with bodies flying and voices soaring, it wasn’t just a philosophical idea, but a physical reality.

The band hardly stopped as they swung right through the rest of “Ecce Homo” and on to “Hot Deuce on Silver Platter.” The title of that song should tell you all you need to know about the band’s sense of humor (if you’re not convinced, check out Stickles’ facial expressions covering Lana del Rey at his parent’s house). When Stickles’ quarter-inch got wrapped around an amp after a particularly raucous rendition of “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus,” he mumbled into the mic, “damn this thing is long.” Gripped by some terrible frat-boy impulse I called out, “that’s what she said.” Stickles chuckled and mugged, “hey, where’s the funny guy?” before launching into “Titus Andronicus,” the rambling centerpiece of Grievances with a wailing harmonica riff.

I have to mention the moshing. At this point in the show it was clear it wasn’t going to let up. It was really positive moshing–Andrew W.K. would have been proud. While intensely physical, there were no elbows or punches. I was particularly impressed, really, with the abandon that some of the smaller people exhibited. It was an intensely communal way to experience the music, and the anthropology major in me was fascinated with the parallels I was starting to see behind this practice and other, more exotically-situated rituals. For “In a Big City,” the crowd swayed and jumped to the call of dreams coming true, and for the solo to “Four Score and Seven” Stickles responded by leaning into the crowd, his guitar strings centimeters from a guy who was (weirdly, I guess) trying to lick them. Most powerfully, I’ve rarely felt such a space to be as respectful as that one felt, a credit to the crowd and the band.

Throughout the show, Stickles was flanked by a bassist and two other guitarists, who all took turns on lead, with a drummer in back who eschewed fancy fills for an insistent and constant beat. While the lack of further instrumentation–and the absence of Amy’s complementary vocals–was apparent on “To Old Friends and New,” it was obvious that the current iteration of the band, and the songs they brought in tow, were meant for touring. (Reminds me of Ian MacKaye’s point that bands should make records so that they can tour, and not the other way around.)

Throughout the show, Stickles’ verbal assault remained relentless, and it was hard to understand how his small body could hold as much breath as it did; like Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, he favors full-sentence lyrics, but he tends to spit rather than coo his. Almost every song seemed to climax to a raucous chant, whether “yr life is over” in “Titus Andronicus,” “it’s us against them” in “Four Score and Seven,” “the enemy is everywhere” in “Titus Andronicus Forever,” “you will always be a loser” in “No Future Part Three,” or the eponymous line from “My Eating Disorder.” Simple words mean it’s easier to focus on putting your heart into it as you’re shouting along.

Throughout Stickles and the band aim for a style that is literate but not self-righteous, confessional but not moping. Bright Eyes might be a comparison, if they were crossed with the Replacements, but Bright Eyes usually sound ready to renounce the world as damned, not redeem it, and Oberst’s flask on the train seems a little bit different than Titus’ kegger on a Friday night.  There is a constant return to community as an antidote to self-loathing–it’s “let’s get fucked” in “Theme from Cheers”–and an overall embrace of earnestness that is a breath of fresh air. In this regard Titus Andronicus seems like a perfect antidote to the problem diagnosed by NYT Stone article “How To Live Without Irony,” which lambastes hipsters for never meaning what they say. Au contraire–Titus wear their emotions pretty bluntly on their sleeves, and invite everyone they know and some they don’t to share in them.

The Replacements knew something about that (and they would have been down for that Keystone Light, too). The godfathers of drunk-punk were honored through a hackneyed cover of “Bastards of Young,” a request for which was shouted out at some point. Their Jersey roots were similarly honored with an absolutely jubilant medley of “Do You Love Me?/Twist and Shout,” a combo which Bruce Springsteen frequently ended shows with during the 80s. These covers were followed by an upbeat take on “(I Am) The Electric Man,” bringing out that songs’ fifties-swing roots.

There I was, sweaty from moshing, beer spilled all over my cords, and worried that I’d miss the final train back to the East Bay, when they launched into the 14-minute epic “Battle of Hampton Roads,” which I don’t need to say much more about than except that it has a bagpipe solo. We jumped up and down and it was impossible whether to say we listening to the soundtrack of apocalypse or salvation. The sound rose and fell like a heaving beast that wouldn’t die, until it was hard to say whether a section could be called a crescendo if it was followed by another crescendo. Though there wasn’t a bagpipe around, the guitars did well enough. The bombast might have been too much in another context, but we had followed the band on the journey this far already–there was no going back. When it was over, I headed straight out. I knew there wouldn’t be an encore–Titus Andronicus had already given it their all.

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