A couple of weeks ago I went with fellow Big States blogoscribe Joe Dixon to see Titus Andronicus at the Empty Bottle. Bird Talk opened playing spunky punk pop that could have fit comfortably among Lookout's roster c. '95. After that was another holdover, the band Shopping, fronted by a singer sounding very much like PeeChees' frontman Chris Applegren. Maybe this is representative of the rising stock of 90s bay area punk? The openers perfectly illustrated the ambition-less loyalty to style that Titus Andronicus fully transcend. Right away they owned all the sloppy stage craft and antics of any good punk band, but didn't stop at spirit and posture. They clearly know how to write a song which is always a big advantage. But they also aren't afraid of drawing from several musical histories, even those that might seem best avoided. They displayed a kind of "I love Rock n' Roll" shamelessness, but buoyed by smart lyrics and unflaggingly catchy songs. Midway through their set they covered Weezer's Sweater Song, which might give the best idea of how their sound balances the big and dumb with the small and felt. Best of all, there was none of the guilty cuteness that might suggest they didn't mean it for real.

There's an easy comparison to Springsteen (they're from New Jersey), which isn't to say they sound like him, because they don't really. But their music doesn't avoid Springsteen level hugeness and the unfashionable belief that rock can be righteous, or is at least more fun when it feels that way. By the end of the night I felt something like faith, both in the band and in the belief that fun and smart really don't have to be mutually exclusive.

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