The Beachland Ballroom
25 September 2009
New Brunswick, New Jersey’s Thursday have done a lot this year. They managed to release a spectacular new record via Epitaph. They headlined this year’s Taste of Chaos tour and supported Rise Against in Europe. Despite their accomplishments, something seemed to be missing every time they took the stage. It wasn’t that their performance was bad or the venue was empty. That couldn’t be further from the truth. For a band that had made it a point in their eleven year career to be accessible to anyone who wanted to talk to them, these larger venues made making personal connections during their set a bit of an uphill battle. Because of this, the first real set of dates that were all theirs on the Common Existence tour were booked into smaller, more intimate venues. Sure, they could have played venues that held 1,000 or more people with ease, but they chose not to. Instead, they played places like the Beachland Ballroom where they crammed 800 people into a room that consisted of little more than a soundboard and a stage. It is an environment in a venue such as this that this band thrives on. No security. No barricade. Nothing separating the band from the audience with the exception of a handful of monitors at the edge of the stage.
Could it be a stranger night, the basement’s filled with kids…
From the moment Fall of Troy walked off stage, the in-house energy was amplified tenfold. Their fans reshuffled and people crammed themselves against the edge of the stage. There was a palpable excitement in the air. Kids who had skipped previous year’s Warped Tour “because it’s no fun when you can’t get into the set because you’re an hundred miles away” or who skipped Taste of Chaos because of all the “fourteen year old girls there for Oli Sykes*” were in attendance en masse. These were the kids who had waited outside for four and five hours before the show. They were the ones who would scream themselves hoarse by the end of the night. They were the kids who turned the ballroom into 331 Somerset House, into the Court Tavern, into Maxwell’s in Hoboken. They turned that big, empty space into the closest thing they had to a New Brunswick basement show. None of that, of course, would have been possible without Thursday.
The Thursday pre-show ritual has become familiar routine. First, there’s a little pep talk. Then, there’s a little song or a dance or something to get loosened up. Then, the adrenaline hits. In perfect symbiosis, at the end of their ritual, they turned and walked calmly onstage as the house lights adjusted for the performance. Tucker is seated behind his drum kit, rearranges a few things, and fits in some last minute stretches. Tom Keeley walks across the stage, picks up his guitar, and gets things in order to begin the set. Andrew steps behind his keyboard and proceeds to make faces at Tom. Steve, like Tom, walks out, picks up his guitar, and all but mirrors the actions of Keeley, and finally, Geoff. He walked out onto the stage, picked up his microphone, and turned and faced his drummer. He smiles, has a last minute pep talk, and then he stops. There isn’t a single movement between the two of them. Perhaps it was prescient to what was going to happen in just a few short minutes. Most of us knew what was coming next. Geoff rocked back on his heels, stopped again, raised one fist over his head, and with the crash of Rule’s drums, the stage exploded with the energy of For the Workforce (Drowning).
From the first beat of Workforce, to the last chord of Jet Black New Year, the ballroom was a flurry of energy and bodies. The band segued seamlessly between old and new material with ease. Between Rupture and Rapture saw Rickly trading screams with the front row. Division St. saw him throw himself across the stage with such gusto, it’s surprising that he didn’t end up in the crowd more times than he had intended. Each song that was played was more urgent and frenetic than the last. They barrelled through Other Side of the Crash and into Paris in Flames like they were there to set the city on fire with the sheer force of their performance. Understanding in a Car Crash garnered the biggest reaction of the night. It’s clearly a song that the band enjoys playing live. It is played a little differently at each show. Tonight, it was played with a sense of urgency that could only be explained in one simple sentence: this is a band that has rediscovered what it means to be a band and what it means to have fun. They are a band that are playing like they were back at the Melody Bar. The climax of the set came with a slightly retooled version of Friends in the Armed Forces. What could have quickly dissolved into political preaching was diverted with Rickly saying what amounted to, “We aren’t here to shove what we believe down your throats. We believe in open and honest communication. We would love to hear what you think about what’s going on in the world right now so if you want to come up and talk to us after our set, that would be really great. This song is for our friends in the military, both here and overseas; this song is called Friends in the Armed Forces”, paraphrased, of course.
Autobiography of a Nation was of particular note, with the crowd packing in as tightly as they could. If this were a hardcore show, it would have been a pile on of epic proportions. Write these words back down inside…. Every last person in the venue clamoured and crawled over the crowd to get a chance to share the microphone, and Rickly was more than willing to oblige. At times, he himself climbed into the crowd as if to say that we are all one and we are all equal. It was as close to being a hardcore band as they could have come without actually playing hardcore music. With each note and each line, there was an increased feeling of unity and solidarity within the room. We weren’t a crowd of people, we weren’t people who were here to see one band or the other or were in one band or the other. We weren’t on the guestlist or the person who bought a ticket. We were all turned into a big group of friends. A personal highlight, though, came in the form of Sugar in the Sacrament off of A City By the Light Divided. Shifting their energy from 12 to 4, the band had a forceful calm about them as they played through Sugar. Bathed in a royal blue light, the crowd became very quiet and extremely respectful, singing along quietly until the explosive finale, where, once again, the house exploded in a flurry of energy. Even the band was calm and reserved until the end of the song.
There was something very different about this set, though. The band seemed happy to be on stage. They seemed happy with each other, with the material, and with the turnout. They were reenergized and played like their lives depended on it. Who knows. Maybe it did?
For the Workforce (Drowning)
Between Rupture and Rapture
Other Side of the Crash (Over and Out of Control)
Paris in Flames
Understanding in a Car Crash
Friends in the Armed Forces
Autobiography of a Nation
Circuits of Fever
Beyond the Visible Spectrum
Signals Over the Air
Sugar in the Sacrament
Jet Black New Year
*NB = This is not a slight against Bring Me the Horizon. This is merely a quote from a member of the audience that I had spoken to before Thursday’s set. The author wishes no ill intent towards the members of BMTH, their fans, or the type of music that they choose to create.
Notably absent from this evening’s lineup is bassist Tim Payne, who is at home in New Jersey on personal business. Filling in for him, this evening is Josh, whom many people would know if they have picked up the United Nations’ record.