Patrick Stickles

– Soup Kitchen, Manchester –

This is, hands down, one of the odder shows I’ve been to in recent times. Billed as ‘Titus Andronicus Acoustic’, ‘the band’ are playing much smaller venues than they have done on previous tours in support of their new album A Productive Cough, and the reason is immediately clear: this isn’t a TA gig, it’s not really even a TA acoustic gig. This is An Evening with Patrick Stickles (the enigmatic TA front man), we are at the mercy of his whims, and it proves to be a borderline genius, borderline madness kinda evening which is never less than utterly engrossing.

It starts with a monologue over the PA system, no one on stage, just Stickles’ voice in the third person telling us about discovering ‘this new Jersey Band Titus Andronicus’, the frontman Patrick Stickles and what TA means to him (‘it’s just, you know, so full of feeling and punk as fuck’), and it’s very funny, self-reverential and very self-deprecating. Then, without a band member in sight, music begins to play over the speakers and Stickles appears, dressed like a centralist dad in chinos, a jumper and shirt, full beard, mischievous look in his eyes, as he stalks around amongst the audience singing new track ‘Number 1 In New York’ along to the full band backing track, eyeballing audience members who don’t quite know what to do with themselves as he spits lines like ‘open wounds, broken bones/ choking from smoking all these Marlboro hundreds/ Dysfunctional, fuck it up in front of the public’ directly into their faces. A guy stood next to me has a TA t-shirt on, and as Stickles makes his way past he gives him a ‘kudos’ shove on the arm and a look of ‘yes sir, you know’, before wheeling back around the front of the crowd to carry on his disarming opener.

Disarming is the best way I can describe this whole thing. From that opening monologue and song, it’s clear we have no idea what to expect from tonight, and that makes it a thrilling roller-coaster of a night, with ups and downs aplenty. The majority of the gig is Stickles and his electric guitar, doing versions of TA songs in his own inimitable style. He has an extraordinary voice that only his mother could love, straining at every note and word, but it works; TA are a punk band, and who gives a fuck about the vocals when there’s this much passion on show? ‘Dimed Out’, from the band’s previous double album The Most Lamentable Tragedy is slowed down but loses none of its impact, the lines ‘I turned it up to four, couldn’t feel it/ I turned it up to five, couldn’t feel it/ turning it up to six wouldn’t reveal it’ funny in the ‘acoustic’ setting. During songs he comes across as slightly unhinged, expelling songs from his being as if in the throes of an exorcism, stuttering about the mic thrashing his guitar, but during the breaks he’s all endearing and compassionate. Admittedly the set up isn’t for everyone, with some people leaving the Soup basement and not returning, maybe having expected a full band instead of the slightly shambolic evening we’re presented with. It’s their loss, because this is actually pretty brilliant.

He loves Manchester, and as he frequently tells us, he’s not just kissing our asses, he genuinely loves the place. He tells a very funny story to introduce ‘Crass Tattoo’ about how, when supporting The Soft Pack here in Manchester in 2009 a man called ‘Veg’ put the broke band up at his house. Veg was an aging punk who started talking to Stickles’ bandmate about the punk band Crass, who Stickles had little knowledge of. Veg gave him a book about the band which Stickles read in 24 hours, giving him a love of the band even though he’d never heard their music, so much so that he got a Crass tattoo, hence the song. He also covers Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, stating that ‘Manchester has been through some shit and even in America we heard this song meant a lot in those times’. ‘Covered’ is a generous word, he properly butchers it, sitting at a little electric piano playing a lot of the right notes in not necessarily the right order, his voice, by his own admission, struggling with the register. But it doesn’t matter a jot, because the sheer sincerity and passion he shows during it more than makes up for the haphazard playing.

The oddest section of the night is when he brings on his TA band mate Liam to do a few songs. It starts off magnificently with the pair doing ‘No Future Part 1’ from the band’s debut album An Airing of Grievances, which is a highlight of the evening. Stickles then joins Liam for one of his own songs (Liam has made 7 albums…), and then leaves the stage completely to let Liam do another of his own songs to a slightly bemused audience who have little to no idea who this guy is, never mind his music. The songs aren’t great, yet it’s still totally endearing of Stickles to give the guy the limelight.

He finishes by telling us how terrifying doing this solo tour is, but how good it is to do stuff that scares you, before tearing into The Monitor (the band’s masterpiece) track ‘Four Score and Seven’, finally descending into a barrage of noise which feels like someone’s let off a valve, an outpouring of the chaos that has been bottled up this eve. It’s almost been like a dude getting up on stage at an open mic night and hogging it all evening to sing Titus Andronicus covers, which in one way I guess it is. But it’s also been absolutely enthralling, a glimpse into a complex guy whose energy, urgency, sincerity, authenticity and lyrical genius shine through in spades during this bizarre set up. A career spanning, unexpected treat of an evening, proving that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone once in a while can reap delightful results.

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