They don't have a lot in common on record, but Titus Andronicus and Free Energy made for a great pair on stage Friday night at the Triple Rock. Both bands lit up the crowd in very different ways with their original songs: TA with its intense, roller-coastery, exposive punk, and FE with its infectious, dancey, hooky riff-rock. The highest moments of the sold-out all-ages gig, though, were when they got together on stage and demonstrated where their common ground lay musically -- and how well they seem to have meshed personally -- in the form of two perfectly chosen, rowdily delivered covers.
In its middle-slot set, Free Energy kicked out a surprisingly earnest version of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm Going Down," which the members of Titus A were bound by law to join in on because of their New Jersey zip code. Even the Gen Y hipsters in the crowd couldn't resist getting their Boss on. Then toward the end of his quintet's exhausting headlining set, Titus frontman Patrick Stickles spurred on Energy drummer Nick Shuminsky (ex-Superhopper) to the stage with his cowbell, and urged his bandmates -- and the whole crowd -- to shout and strut along to Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner." Throw in TA's blistering encore song choice by a whole different kind of Jersey band, the Misfits' "Where Eagles Dare," and the cover songs definitely raised the show over the high bar already set by two of this year's most exciting new guitar-rock bands.
Titus Andronicus' live show is probably my favorite of any breakout band I've seen this year. Friday's set kicked off with "A More Perfect Union" and "Richard II," two of the more straight-ahead, full-on-roaring songs from the group's second album, "The Monitor." They then proceeded to build up and tear down the noise and energy level about 300 times over the next 75 minutes, reaching stormy climaxes in "No Future III" and the scream-along "And Ever" and pulling out about four or five different endings to songs like "Four Score and Seven." While Stickles' anarchic lyrics often seem bleak and bitter -- i.e., "The enemy is everywhere!" in "And Ever" -- it's amazing how joyful, gregarious and spirited his band's performances are. Yep, kind of like the Boss.