There’s nothing here that the preceding studio album didn’t already do more effectively and comprehensively.
With all their musical bluster and bombast as well as their sky-high conceptual ambition—epitomized by, for instance, nine-minute songs about the Civil War and triple LP-length rock operas—it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Titus Andronicus consider themselves, to some extent, a DIY punk band. They still certainly play with the requisite raw energy, sloppiness and unpredictability on stage, even as their studio output has become more thoughtful and carefully arranged. And, at least until very recently, the band’s scrawny, manic frontman Patrick Stickles kept in touch with his roots by selling tickets at Shea Stadium (the famed, dingy Williamsburg DIY venue, not the now-demolished, garish blue and orange dump where the Mets used to play). Not only that, but the band continues to play shows there, long after they’ve outgrown the room. In fact, this live album was recorded over the course of a sold out five-night run at Shea that served as an extended released party for last year’s opus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy.
Fittingly, then, S+@dium Rock is certainly more superficially punk than The Most Lamentable Tragedy, from which the former’s entire tracklist was culled (other than the loose, very nearly countryish outtake “69 Stones”). It’s brisk where Tragedy was sprawling; it’s deafeningly loud most of the way through where Tragedy was varied and dynamic; and Stickles gets a nice snotty slur going on a few songs that may be punk as hell but occasionally obscures some of the mix of introspective gravitas and wicked humor that made Tragedy’s lyrics so powerful. It undoubtedly rocks like hell, and as such should serve as a fine memento for anyone who was in attendance at the Shea Stadium shows. For the rest of us, it’s a very enjoyable but inessential bonus disc for Tragedy. There’s nothing on it that the preceding studio album didn’t already do more effectively and comprehensively.
S+@dium Rock’s first half is blisteringly rowdy but largely predictable, as the band just run through Tragedy’s singles and otherwise most popular and catchiest tracks. These versions of “Dimed Out” and “Fatal Flaw” sure do smoke like hell, even if they’re largely indistinguishable from the studio versions beyond a bit of convivial stage patter and Stickles’ vocals sounding, uh, phlegmier. The exception to this is the eight and a half-minute version of “Lonely Boy,” which plays up the resemblance it already had to ‘70s classic rock by placing less emphasis on churning rhythm guitars, as in the studio version, and more on Elio DeLuca’s loungy, E Street-ian piano, as well as adding an extended guitar solo onto the end that briefly quotes “My Sweet Lord.” Even at an ostensible punk show, the band’s range and embrace of pre-punk classicism shines through.
The performances on the album’s latter half, while lacking in the inherent melodicism and muscle of the instant classic tunes with which S+@dium Rock got frontloaded, diverge more from their studio counterparts and thus hold more repeat listening value. In addition to the aforementioned, previously unreleased “69 Stones,” Titus Andronicus present noisy, full-band versions of two of Tragedy’s quietest, most stripped down tracks: “No Future Part V: In Endless Dreaming” and “Stable Boy.” Both songs—the former a caustic piano lament and the latter a solo Stickles reverie played on harmonium on Tragedy—are presented as big, crashing slow burners. They lend a great deal of emotional range to S+@dium Rock, but when compared to the vastness of the same type of range on Tragedy, it represents barely more than a single piece of a larger puzzle.