8/23/2018: Thursday at Asbury Lanes, New Jersey
I backed into Thursday through War All the Time and haven’t budged much from there. While I’ve given each of their records a fair listen (other than Waiting, which even the band seems to have swept under the rug), they’ve also been cursory listens, meant to satiate my inner completist and no more. War All the Time has more than sufficed, and I regard it as an underrepresented essential of early ’00 heavy music.
Even so, I felt obligated to sign up for the 20th anniversary show dates for both Full Collapse and War All the Time, if only to observe the transition between the two records close up. And, of course, I felt obligated to share my observations with (all two of) the Metal Lifestyle readership. Driving down to New Jersey, my intention was to give Full Collapse and War All the Time a few listens, but other than a few plays of “Understanding in A Car Crash” tooling around the endless sunny streets of the Jersey shore with the friend I’m staying with, I stepped into Asbury Lanes tonight all but virginal. This was probably for the better.
Absent from much of the promotion surrounding the show is the fact that Brooklyn’s Ageist would be opening. They seemed like an unusual choice for that slot considering they don’t slot into the same category of emotionally-charged post-hardcore as Thursday, preferring fuzzy midtempo riffs and monotone “dad punk” vocals, but they kept their set casual, prefacing songs with brief thematic summaries. The phrase “This is a cautionary tale about” came up quite a bit, a fact they spoofed among themselves to the audience. They let the lightshow make up for a workmanlike dedication to their instruments over exhibiting more than average levels of stage presence. All to say: Ageist were perfectly okay, but they were not a highlight of the show.
They were the sole opening act. An intermission of about forty-five minutes passed while Thursday’s stage tech milled around, checking this level and that to sporadic claps and chants of “Thurs-DAY.” The stage fogged up, the lights were tested, and a recording of “A0001” announced the band’s entrance stage right, waving and smiling as they picked up their instruments, visibly excited to be playing the cornerstone of their discography in their homestate and to a sold-out venue. Can’t blame them. The reaction to “Understanding In A Car Crash” was what you’d expect: full crowd participation, arms and voices raised, and a healthy pit.
Thursday are a phenomenal live act. This is the first time I’ve seen them, and it was clear early that they’re consummate professionals, evoking that all-important feedback loop where the band and the crowd seem to excite one another in continually escalating cycles; they’re note-perfect, too, sounding neither sterile or rehearsed to death, but just as vital as they must have sounded eighteen years ago. Even in this context, Geoff Rickley stands out. He is truly a cut above, often bettering his recorded performances. Maybe the best example of this quality comes in his screaming, which is vicious and emotive in a way not captured on record.
He’s also a personable, unexpectedly funny guy. Just after the third or fourth song (depending on whether “A0001” counts), there was an issue with Rickley’s microphone that stalled the show for a good twenty minutes, but the moment it was resolved, he shouted, “I’ve got a microphone! Oh, you’re in trouble now!” and got right into “Autobiography of A Nation.” As mentioned, I’m not very attached to Full Collapse, but this didn’t preclude me from enjoying the hell out of the set, if only because the band enjoyed playing it, a fact they reiterated more than once throughout the night. Prior to “A Hole in the World,” Rickley mentioned it was a song they had unofficially retired for a few years but were grateful to be playing again. They took a moment to dedicate “Paris In Flames” to the radio station that took a chance on a young Thursday back in the day; and also to (here I’ll paraphrase a bit), “whoever felt they didn’t belong somewhere, who didn’t feel like they were tough enough for a metal show, or even a punk show. We hope you found something in this song.” This, as you can imagine, earned a pretty deafening reception.
Other notable moments included “Standing On the Edge of Summer,” which Rickley introduced as a song about the days leading up to summer (duh, but also strangely impactful by this point in the night, given the mood of charged nostalgia); “Wind Up,” a song they re-recorded straight from the band’s first demo, and therefore one of the oldest Thursday songs still getting play; and the extended outro of “How Long Is the Night?” and “I1100,” when Rickley took a backseat to the audience and hoisted up the microphone stand to capture the roar of the audience. It ended, however, just as it does on record, with Rickley repeating “The tide is high on Fourteenth Street,” a moment as aching and poignant as anything I’ve ever witnessed live.
Full Collapse, as frontman Geoff Rickley noted on this first night I’m writing, is a record about collective experience. There’s not an “I” to be found, but plenty of “we,” and its accessible style invites personal association, binding it to rock-solid pop structures and preserving it forever in pre-9/11 angst. On the other hand, tonight’s record, War All the Time, is an album about personal strife and anxiety saturated in the disorder of a new post-9/11 America. It’s a morose twin to Full Collapse and a moodier, more technical, and more confrontational effort. I’m curious how the mood around it will shape up tonight.
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