TAKEN TOGETHER there are few emerging rock bands with as sheer propulsion as Titus Andronicus and Free Energy, who appear together Wednesday, August 25 at Castaways. The two acts, who have risen from the fertile scenes of Ridgewood, New Jersey and Philadelphia respectively, bring a passion and intensity to entertain – not unlike the like minded Hold Steady or Arcade Fire or for that matter, Bruce Springsteen, to whom they’re all indebted. Many popular indie bands in the last few years have embraced either solipsism or pastiche, but rock and roll is first and foremost about fun, and the show, billed as a welcome back to students by promoter Dan Smalls Presents, promises it in droves: all for $15 (9 p.m. doors).
Though the bands sold out Hoboken’s storied club Maxwell’s earlier this month, and are gearing up for a big date at Webster’s Hall in New York in September, neither needs a reason to rock out. Last June, Free Energy tore apart Castaways despite a lack of an overflow crowd. And both bands have received nods from Rolling Stone Magazine as among the most promising of the year.
The Philadelphia five-piece Free Energy, are a blast from the past; a sound that invokes the power pop of the early 70s. Propelled by cowbell and carbonated guitars, Free Energy’s eponymous theme song – and debut single – finds front man Paul Spranger declaring “We’re gonna start a new life, and see how it goes.” Which is exactly what Paul and his songwriting foil, Scott Wells, did when they left St. Paul, Minn., for new digs in Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia is much more livable [than Brooklyn]” Spranger wrote by email. “More time can be spent making music than riding the train and working a ton.” The band made from Spranger and Scott Wells’ previous band, the indie combo and Pavement disciples Hockey Night. “Hockey Night was not as focused, a little more reserved,” Spranger noted. By way of contrast, the driving pulse of Free Energy’s “Bang Pop” could jump start a stalled semi-truck, and “Bad Stuff” juxtaposes vapor trail guitars with nimble riffs. Snippets of glam, power pop, bubblegum and arena rock all filter into the mix.
For the swaggering “Dream City,” Wells used the Sweet’s “Blockbuster” as a sonic model. Steve Miller Band, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Cheap Trick are all Free Energy favorites, too. “Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to compete with: The songs you might hear any minute on a corporate classic rock radio station,” Wells said. “It’s just a process of working hard, refining, identifying what works and what doesn’t. It’s very fun and very rewarding. As we get better the shows get bigger and more people come out and the party keeps growing!!”
New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus is no less fun. Emerging from the fertile scene of suburban New Jersey, the band took its name from Shakespeare’s most violent works, and the title of its debut album from a “Seinfeld” episode (“The Airing of Grievances”); but its fondness for appropriation doesn’t diminish its originality.
Pitchfork Magazine praised the group’s recently released second album, “The Monitor,” and its “anthemic chants, rousing sing-alongs, celebrations of binge drinking, marathon song titles, broken-hearted duets, punked-up Irish jigs, and classic rock lyric-stealing.” According to the band, “The Monitor” is more or less a “concept album” – that is to say, it uses the American Civil War of 1861-1865 as an extended metaphor for the concerns addressed in a somewhat linear narrative. “In said narrative, our hero leaves his humble birthplace of New Jersey – the oppressive and stifling qualities of which were discussed ad nauseam about one album ago – for the greener pastures of Boston, Massachusetts. His thesis – ‘the enemy is everywhere’ – is put to the ultimate test as he pontificates on the topics of regional identity, emotional anesthetization, and the heavy yoke of trying to live decently in indecent times.”
Accessible, ambitious and above all fun, the bands promise to provide an entertaining Wednesday, and a good introduction to Dan Smalls Presents’ season of sonic scene-stealers.