Title Fight in Oxford: Like Gold Dust

By: Berlin Howell

The announcement of a last-minute Title Fight house show should have surprised any fan of their music, because the Northeast-born band had presumably grown past such small capacity performances— at least for fire hazard’s sake. Thanks to a canceled headliner and gracious Oxfordian host, I made it to see Title Fight in a living room with about thirty other people. They were brought here by way of a national tour with Desaparecidos, which was scheduled to play in Oxford at The Lyric, but due to a cancellation, the house show was announced—to the elation of an area which has been notorious for not attracting touring bands.

Much like my spontaneous trip to Atlanta, I heard about the show and left for Oxford on Monday as soon as I got out of class. Luckily, unlike my journey to see Kendrick Lamar, which spanned 750 miles in one night, Oxford is only an hour away. The quickest route is to take Lamar Avenue until it changes to Highway 78, then exit at Highway 7 and go all the way down through Abbeville into Oxford. While this way (the back way) is faster, my friend Sarah and I took I-55S so we could pick up our friend Jon in Coldwater. Both routes take just a little over an hour, but there is no need to fear when you inevitably lose cell service and believe yourself to be in the middle of nowhere. Due to the sprawling population attracted by Ole Miss, the city is a mirage of culture amidst a rather bleak surrounding area. 

Jon Dulin is a guy whom I’ve been traveling with for years, and this show was significant for us. When Title Fight’s Floral Green came out in 2012, we left on a school night to see the Birmingham date of a tour with Pianos Become the Teeth and Single Mothers. Back then I was in 11th grade and the trip to Alabama was revolutionary for me.  This time around, the excursion was sentimental and hugely cathartic. We got to the small student-occupied town house just as the sun fully set. What might have been a boring Monday night turned into one of the most memorable shows I have ever attended.    

We crammed ourselves into an almost unbearably crowded room, but initial claustrophobia was dislodged by the palpable energy of the night. Memphis locals Pillow Talk opened the show, performing songs from their Animal Style Records debut “What We Should Have Said”. Traces of Title Fight's impact appear on both of their releases, but the newer Title Fight albums especially seem to have impacted Pillow Talk's five-song EP. However, their Memphis upbringing is prevalent and distinguishes their songwriting from a large group of bands who have followed similar, lesser aggressive progressions.

A band called I Was Afraid from Little Rock played after Pillow Talk. It was during their set when I realized that this event was a coincidental and phenomenal multi-state collaboration. Bands from Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Tennessee were all performing a last-minute house show in Mississippi. Independent shows like this-whether they're in houses, churches, VFWs or any possible imaginative DIY venues-are unique because the crowd experiences complete intimacy with the artist. There's no stage or barrier to separate, so the audience is as involved in the show as much as any band member.

The most recent show in November was my fourth time seeing Title Fight, though I felt as if I was discovering their potential all over again. In Birmingham, Ned (the lead singer) lost his patience with the crowd, to my slight dismay. He stopped midway through “Secret Society” to yell “you're rushing” when the hurried chanting overwhelmed the speakers projecting his voice. Yet in Oxford, Ned joked light-heartedly with the crowd, interspersing honesty with comments like: “I think this is my first party.” Guitarist Shane Moran and drummer Ben Russin, along with Ned, play in the straight edge hardcore band Disengage, so it would make sense that an SEC college town would be unfamiliar territory. Rambunctious attendees jumped and screamed and pushed, but also absorbed the show. Despite the overwhelming smell of spilled alcohol and untamable crowd, this was no college party.

Photo: Sam Leathers

Earlier this year, Hyperview (2015) ushered in a new age of Title Fight. The Pennsylvania band has released four full-length albums in the last decade, and they sound almost unrecognizable on these dreamy and distortion-free songs. However, they are only six years detached from their heavily pop-punk influenced debut, The Last Thing You Forget (though technically a compilation album of songs from EPs and songs from split records that came out amongst songs with other bands) is a dense and thorough first album, despite the somewhat generic quality to parts of the instrumentation. Aggressive roots are far more evident in this record and its follow-up, Shed (2011). Their sophomore LP is still my favorite, though their sound continues to shift away from Shed with every release. 

No longer bound to former descriptions, Hyperview feels like the band’s graduation from their earlier albums. Heard on their newest record are the sounds of maturation and intentional distance. Dynamic transitions and varying paces between songs carry this track list, a sound that was teased last December when they played in Memphis with Circa Survive and Pianos Become the Teeth.

When Ned Russin asked the crowd about William Faulkner, prevalent southern gothic context settled over the room. Oxford was Faulkner’s home, and he is buried not far from where Title Fight played. For the first time I got to hear “Introvert” from The Last Thing You Forget, a title which comes from the last line of the song. The sentiment of the lyric is the same of a theme throughout his works, the importance of legacy, of remembrance. 

Berlin Howell is a Sophomore Creative Writing major at Christian Brothers University, an avid music critic, and a staff writer for the Galleon.

Posted by Josh Colfer at 3:00 PM

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