Titus Andronicus tears up stage at Gabe’s

On March 29, rock band Titus Andronicus performed at Gabe’s in Iowa City for its world tour, joined by its opener Country Westerns. Titus Andronicus tore up the stage with rapid-fire rhythms and hard-hitting lyrics.


Cody Blissett

A drum kit sits at Gabe’s during a Titus Andronicus performance in Iowa City on Tuesday, March 29, 2023.

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

Rock band Titus Andronicus played an electrifying set at Gabe’s in downtown Iowa City Wednesday night. 

Titus Andronicus has been on a world tour since the beginning of February, performing at venues around the U.S. and the U.K. Their performance in Iowa City on March 29 was just one stop on this tour. 

In March, the punk rock band was joined by Country Westerns, a rock trio from Nashville, Tennessee. This is the second tour on which Country Westerns has opened for Titus Andronicus, so the bands have become closely acquainted. 

A crowd began trickling into Gabe’s when Country Westerns took to the stage to kick off the night. The band’s first few songs introduced lead singer Joseph Plunkett’s deep and guttural vocals and his skillful electric guitar playing, drummer Brian Kotzur’s powerful beats, and bassist Jordan Jones’s rich chords.

Country Westerns’ set felt like a winding road between fields and small roadside towns in the middle of summer. While some songs were more upbeat, others were sultry and mellow, like day fading into night. 

The performance went by almost too quickly with transitions between songs guided by speed and sound dynamics. As soon as they quieted, Kotzur would build up again with a barrage of percussive notes, and the band would fall back into an earthy rhythm together. 

Certain songs were also highlighted by harmonies between Plunkett’s lower voice and Jones’s higher range which added more expression to the music. Other pieces were expressive enough with their hard-hitting lyrics, particularly those of “I’m Not Ready.”

By the time Country Westerns finished their set, the second floor of Gabe’s had filled with people, who applauded and whistled the band off the stage. 

According to Jones, the audience response at Gabe’s for Country Westerns was the best yet on this tour. He said they look forward to future performances and enjoying the “record stores, hotel rooms, and audiobooks” that the tour offers. 

Titus Andronicus’s ascendence to the stage was met by cheers from onlookers, especially from fans familiar with the band’s work. 

Formed in 2005 in New Jersey by lead singer and guitarist Patrick Stickles, the band took its name from the Shakespeare tragedy about a general, Titus Andronicus, who returns from war with four enslaved soldiers. The soldiers take brutal revenge on Titus and reclaim their freedom. Stickles was driven by the same inspiration when he made the band.

“I thought ‘there’s been so many people that have doubted me, or dissed me, or generally discredited my artistic potential, so I’m going to start this band. I’m going to get revenge on all of them and I’ll teach them a lesson about discounting people like me,’” Stickles said.

And Stickles certainly taught those haters a lesson on the stage — the band’s set began with an intense crescendo into the first of many energetic songs. Stickles sang with a high, resonant voice that matched the fast and vibrant pace of the music. 

The tight, electric chords by guitarist Liam Betson and bassist R.J. Gordon gave the songs a solid foundation and enhanced the depth of the music. Chris Wilson’s superhuman speed on the drums ramped up the sound with ear-splitting cymbal work and bass drum booms. 

Meanwhile, pianist Michael Carson leveled out the energy in the room with swinging melodies. His piano work rounded out the band’s punk and indie rock with a bit of a lighter tone. 

Titus Andronicus played a mix of classic songs and pieces from their latest album, The Will to Live, released in September 2022. This album explores personal loss and prescient political and public-health crises. 

Though the album tackles especially emotional content, every song the band played was an outlet for every kind of feeling. Audiences could lose themselves in the music while singing along or dancing around in a release of frustration. 

Stickles participated in his own expression of emotion as he swung his instrument, constantly moved around the stage, and even stood on a stool as he slammed on his guitar. With a magnetic stage presence and a humorous attitude, he helped create intimacy between the band and the audience. 

Alex Chasteen, a recent University of Iowa graduate who now works at the Englert, attended the show with their friends, one of whom has been a fan of the band since high school. The group enjoyed the performance, and Chasteen recalled the band’s first show in Iowa City in 2008.

“I think the energy and charisma they have on stage would facilitate a real, live show,” Chasteen said. “I was just talking to my friend who worked their last show in Iowa City at The Mill, and he said everyone went really crazy. I think with more people in the space, you feel like you have more of an imperative to go hard.”

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