CAMBRIDGE — A performance by the New Jersey indie punks Titus Andronicus is either the best or the worst place to be for a music fan with a short attention span. On the one hand, the band’s agitated, bristling punk anthems are stuffed to overflowing, spinning off from the anthemic shouting of blue-collar bar rock to meandering, jam-rock-style soloing.
Then again, many of the songs can easily stretch past the six- or even eight minute mark, so if you aren’t partial to the song in question, things can get ponderous. For the majority of the sold-out crowd Monday at the Middle East Upstairs (the band would play a second show on Tuesday), that didn’t seem to be an issue. Songs from throughout the group’s near-decade career were received with both aggressive enthusiasm and tender fondness.
At its best, the six-piece band, featuring Boston local Elio DeLuca on keys and bass player Julian Veronesi, originally from the area, ripped through concise, cutting, and snottily tuneful songs, as on “Titus Andronicus,” with its garage-punk energy, ascendant chord changes, and abrasive screaming from frontman Patrick Stickles. As on record, the song here devolved into a handclap singalong, with the crowd yelling along: “Your life is over, your life is over.”
Stickles was by turns a contentious barker and a welcoming rock-camp counselor. “Nothing weird is going to go down, it’s all going to be fine,” he assured the crowd before the set. “We’re going to treat each other as family. We’re here to erect a temporary autonomous zone for all, where everybody feels safe and secure.”
Elsewhere, the group came together in four-part gang vocals, as on the jaunty Bright-Eyes-at-a-honky-tonk-evoking “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With the Flood of Detritus.” As the title implies, there is a lot going on here thematically and lyrically.
Stickles sprinkles references to heady concepts throughout, as on the swirling, chaotic “Albert Camus.” Other numbers are more populist, like “A More Perfect Union.” Stickles used to live in Somerville, he said by way of introduction. “It was a brief but meaningful period in my life. The time when I first became a true stoner.” That song, with its Jersey and Boston shoutouts, was the band at its best. “Tramps like us,” he shouted, “Baby we were born to die.”
Fellow New Jersey band Liquor Store sounded like a Southern rock-inspired version of the Stooges, with its manic, harmonized guitar lines balanced out by cutting bass grooves and shouted three-part vocals.Luke O’Neil can be reached at email@example.com.