If the conversation is great and the sex is better, then you know you're in the best kind of trouble. And so it was with New Jersey's Titus Andronicus, whose eloquent brand of lit punk packed a visceral wallop.
Whether filtering lyrics through a first-person narrative or a Civil War battle, front-man and creative architect Patrick Stickles doesn't shy away from weighty themes. Whatever the subject matter, he emphasizes the importance of syntax and phrasing, and his band's live show did the same.
Strutting out of the gate with a straightforward take on "Ecce Homo," the five-piece began with measured beats and an insistent melody that gave way to the grand "Still Life with Hot Deuce and Silver Platter." A feat of pacing, the latter was an early highlight with a trio of rollicking guitars that disguised a deceptively hooky backbone.
The always massive "Titus Andronicus" — an increasingly poignant mission statement and can't-miss sing-along — saw Stickles cavorting with the crowd, while follow-up "Four Score and Seven" provided a needed respite, buoyed by an after-hours guitar melody and incessant kick drum.
Nevertheless, the combo was at their best when they went big, especially on cuts like "A More Perfect Union" and "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,'" both of which made great use of fake-outs and sporadic explosions.
Throughout various lineups, Titus's shambolic approach has always befitted its balls-out shows, but the current starting five is a cut above. Case in point, guitarist Adam Reich's spotlight turn on a largely effective cover of Neil Young's "Down by the River" held together a sprawling gambit.
Neil wasn't the only surprise. Owen Pallett — guest starring as the Anonymous Fiddler — fleshed out a catchy "In a Big City" and helped out a relatively flat — despite Stickles's high hopes — "In a Small Body."
Still, much of the show tended toward the ferocious, creating a non-stop mosh pit and near constant in-crowd screaming. With a career arc that includes an epic concept record, Titus managed to seamlessly revisit its entire oeuvre, dexterously toeing a line between sheer bombast and thoughtfulness.