Titus Andronicus / Fucked Up Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON April 1

Titus Andronicus / Fucked Up Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON April 1
Beard and punk fans alike got a special April Fool's Day treat, thanks to Fucked Up's last minute addition to an already hotly anticipated Titus Andronicus gig. Test-driving bits of forthcoming rock opera David Comes to Life, the Toronto hardcore luminaries burned through a joyously buoyant opening slot, peppered with atypically poppy elements (a the Who riff here, a Face to Face vocal melody there) but nonetheless full of essential aggressiveness.

While much has been made of the outfit's developing pop proclivities, they still brought the hardcore-indebted punk, big time. Frontman Damian Abraham's snarl and shirtless-ness remained intact and his cohorts continued to embrace the West Coast Offense (i.e. balls-out, all the time).

Highlight -- the recently unveiled "Other Shoe" -- relied on an infectious and relentless "dying on the inside" refrain, a batch of thick guitar combers, Sandy Miranda's sweet vocal work and a generally sticky melody. The brief set boded particularly well for an impending LP that has faced a few popular reservations (rock operas tend to do that).

With a primed and sweaty crowd, New Jersey literary rockers turned Civil War appreciators, Titus Andronicus, launched into a casually epic performance. Singer Patrick Stickles may not have much interest in finding the right key, but he has plenty of other curiosities, from Shakespearean tragedies and Renaissance paintings to Seinfeld and ironclad sea battles, to occupy his time.

Drawing on that diverse well of reference points, he and his crack band went on a series of musical jaunts. Piling on militaristic drumming for "No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future," trying five-piece harmonies and a hoedown for "My Time Outside the Womb," and infusing "The Battle of Hampton Roads" with incisive strings, it was a stirringly ambitious show.

Given Stickles's vocal limitations -- think Conor Oberst with less high end -- he, like Goose and Maverick, had a need for speed and the initial plodding of "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ" showed the weakness. Though, he largely played to his strengths, diving into the mix on the massive "A More Perfect Union" and the harmonica-spurred "Titus Andronicus."

Damian briefly returned for an obligatory team-up on a not-too-shabby rendition of Sham 69's "If the Kids Are United" and an impromptu birthday sing-along for Titus bassist Amy Klein. The cameo was in line with an already affable show that brimmed with rabid audience involvement and punk camaraderie.