April 11, 2010
New Haven is a city of juxtaposition. Antiquated buildings hundreds of years old line paved streets clogged with cars and clunky buses. The neatly manicured Green hosts slumbering bums on their benches. And for Lily’s Pad, a cozy room on York a staircase up from Toad’s Place, there is a contrast even starker with rowdy pop music in the foreground of a backdrop of stone construction and leaves bloated dark green from chlorophyll.
Here, dozens of people crowded into the lofted space at the end of a week, the inside air tired from the residual heat. It was a Sunday, but nothing much indicated that aside from the date on Manic's flyers. Besides this, there were Red Stripes in transit among the crowd, a raging 80’s prom downstairs and muffled conversation in the low-ceilinged corridor. There was a game on, transmitted through the flat-screened televisions against the wall—opening entertainment for My Heart to Joy, you could probably argue.
Although a little abrasive compared to the rest of the bill, My Heart to Joy was a decent local opener for the show. Their set included material entirely from their year-old release Seasons in Verse and a new, poppier song. Though MHTJ plays to a variant crowd, the energy within the group always remains consistent. The bassist, Chris Teti and guitarist Greg Horbal literally hurl themselves into the performance. They utilized a ton of build-up and stress but incorporated a more varied melodic tone. The microphones were incredibly fuzzy during the set—a good thing, my friend chided, for Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus’ “bad” voice (this ended up being true).
My Heart to Joy might not have been the crowd’s traditional cup of tea, but the front lines of the crowd moved with their punches. They were tight and professional, Ryan Nelson (vox, guitar) just introduced songs and closed their performance with a “Thanks.” The stylistic change of strokes between My Heart to Joy and The Babies was pretty clear. The Babies include members of Woods (Kevin Morby) and Vivian Girls (Cassie Ramone), bands which both pride themselves on their fuzz as if they were woodland animals hunkering down for the freeze. The credentials of Ramone and Morby are mentioned almost every time The Babies are brought up in promotion and conversation both for the referential cred and because they’re so musically similar. They are exactly what you would expect with a combination of the two, creating a lo-fi monster lacking the complete grainy charm of Woods, but more resonant than Vivian Girls’ fat-free pop.
The three piece gave off a meekness as if enrolled in a high school battle of the bands—the whirling disco lights added to this atmosphere. Morby’s eyes kept shifting between Ramone and back down to his instrument and Ramone had this permanently withered expression as she sang in flat and low tones. Justin Sullivan just looked like Animal while drumming. The trio’s blissed-out pop transformed the crowd into bobble-headed Labrador statues, all but for two sweaty guys in t-shirts pounding the floor by jumping up and down in time to no real beat. Those around them exchanged nervous glances, probably at least a little bit wary of the floor which felt like it was about to give into the weight of a nearly sold out audience anxious for Titus.
Titus’ fans are a mixed bag. There was that guy in a Yankees shirt, that drunk girl clutching a thermos begging Patrick Stickles to say “Lauren!” (to which he responded: “Lauren.”), the friends in matching navy hoodies. And when Titus gunned into their first song, the intensity of the makeshift shove-pit might have made an onlooker wonder if the audience was aware that the band gripped instruments or just needed a call to arms. But they were singing along, too, and Stickles was right in the crux of it with them. During ‘No Future: Part Three Escape From No Future,’ he perched on a windowsill against the earth-toned buildings of York Street and dragged a clearing through the thick layer of condensation on the window with his finger, scrawling “YOU’LL ALWAYS BE A LOSER.” As if they were subtitles, the room was singing it right there with him and cheered when he finished the window’s epitaph. During the rest of the night, he continued to hop on the heads of the crowd, fondled the disco ball suspended from the ceiling and staggered through the audience clutching a microphone like it was his holy sacrifice.
The sloppy onslaught of miserable pop rang to the ceilings and drowned out the decades’ old covers downstairs for the better part of an hour. Near midnight, both band and crowd fidgeted in a breathy daze under the ceiling which dripped with condensation from the resounding body heat. Nearly all of the material played was off of The Monitor, a recent release from early March which lyrically harkens the Civil War and its tangible applications to today. And even though no one in the room probably knew what being “covered in urine and excrement” (“A Pot in Which to Piss”) felt like, each person could relate on some level to the embedded message in The Monitor: we are divided, and we suffer because of it.
(Images by John Packer)