Thursday @ Starland Ballroom, 30 December 2010

17 Jan

Thursday
Starland Ballroom, Sayreville NJ
12.30.10

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You’ll never really know how much a record will affect your life when you first hear it. You never really know how much it does after you don’t listen to it for a while. When you do go back and revisit it, you realize how completely that record has become a part of your life. That’s how I’ve become with a little record called Full Collapse. I remember when Thursday jumped from Eyeball Records to Victory Records and everything that went along with that move. I remember being played the demos for that record and feeling something, knowing that they had something but not really being sure what it was. The record was preceded by the video for Understanding in a Car Crash. I can remember seeing that video for the first time and realizing that they were on the threshold of something huge. I guess I wasn’t really prepared for the impact that this record was going to have on “the scene.”

Thursday’s holiday shows are always a real treat. They always manage to pull out all the stops whether it be by playing rare songs, having special guests or having amazing opening acts. Tonight, we got a little bit of all three. It could have been very easy for them to phone in their set; after all, it was billed as “Full Collapse plus the hits.” Anyone who has ever seen them live knows that songs from Full Collapse are always present in their regular set. Everyone knows them and everyone loves them and every one always sings along. Thursday, however, don’t ever do things the easy way. Everyone thought that they knew what to expect, perhaps, but nobody was really prepared for what was about to happen. Sure they were playing their “big” record from cover to cover, but what did these guys have up their sleeves?

Thursday shows at the Starland Ballroom always manage to turn into something bigger than what they intend to be. Take a quick survey of the (always) sold out crowd and it’s fairly easy to divide them into two categories: the lifers and everyone else. I consider myself in the former group. This is the sixth year of the Annual Thursday Holiday Extravaganza. It’s always a comforting thing to take a look around between sets. No matter where I’m standing in the venue, I can always see people who are at every holiday show and who are at every home town show.

The setlist was as follows:

A0001
Understanding In A Car Crash
Concealer
Autobiography Of A Nation
A Hole In The World
Cross Out The Eyes
Paris In Flames
I Am The Killer
Standing On The Edge Of Summer
Wind-up
How Long Is The Night?
I1100

You Were the Cancer
Turnpike Divides
Asleep in the Chapel
Lovesong Writer
Jet Black New Year
Tomorrow I’ll Be You

In looking at the setlist, one would think that it would speak for itself, but as we mentioned earlier, nothing about this band speaks of taking the easy route. People familiar with the band’s history know that during the time between the release of Waiting and Full Collapse, the New Brunswick music scene was still incredibly tightly knit. When you examine bands from that scene, and even the Philly and Long Island / Brooklyn scenes if you want to make it all one big family, a lot of bands showed up on their friends’ records. Why is this important to mention? The calm and tranquility of A0001 belied what was about to take place. Understanding in a Car Crash was played with renewed vigour and energy. Concealer was as punchy live as it is on record. The band focused all of their energy into getting the intensity and emotions of that song into a whirling maelstrom of energy. They collected it, put it in a box and waited for the perfect time to unleash the rest of it, and they were only two songs in!

Autobiography Of A Nation was the first of many surprises. Every year, it seems, Geoff finds unexpected people to come up and sing with him and do the backing vocals on, say, Understanding in a Car Crash or Jet Black New Year, like they were originally recorded. In 2007, he brought in Nathan Gray from boysetsfire, Joey Southside from the Banner and Jesse from #12 Looks Like You. If Thursday are out with Circa Survive, sometimes Anthony Green will come out during Understanding. Not to slight any of these men in the least for they are all fine musicians with amazing strong voices, but there’s something that was always not quite perfect about all of these performances. None of them matched the throat shredding growl of Gerard Way in Jet Black New Year, for example. These songs haven’t been performed with the only voice that could have made them perfect and complete…until tonight. The opening bass riff, which slightly resembled the demo version, started and everyone moved forward to support Geoff when he jumped into the crowd. This time he didn’t; this time he stayed on stage and was joined on stage by Tom Schlatter of New Brunswick noise band Black Kites, and former singer of You and I. Tom is the original backing screamer, so it only seems fitting that since they were doing a home town show playing Full Collapse, they would bring him on stage to be the unofficial seventh member of Thursday. The New Jersey contingent knew exactly who it was, and his presence hit like a freight train. Usually restricted to his guitar, Schlatter moved like Daryl Palumbo and sang like a banshee. Most of us stood there dumbstruck for a split second, just to take it all in, and then came back to life. This is one of the few songs that can really turn whatever venue that they’re playing into the smallest of basements. It is always good to see it early in the set because it has the power to bring people together.

A Hole in the World was fairly standard; I’m sure that not many people minded after the assault of Autobiography of a Nation. It was a nice respite between the former and Cross out the Eyes, which was as visceral and spastic as the day it was written. Paris in Flames was also fairly played to standard, unless you count Geoff nearly taking out his microphone on the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling. I am the Killer was as equally frenetic as Cross Out the Eyes. A song that had fallen out of rotation for a while, popping up here and there in the most random of places, it is one that, when done right, is akin to being punched in the throat. And the gut. And the throat again. Many people singing a long had to stop and compose themselves or take a breather after the song. This isn’t because it is a difficult song to sing, because it is, it was because the sheer level of emotion that is required of the protagonist to effectively communicate everything that’s happening in a very short period of time.

At this point in the show, the presence of Standing on the Edge of Summer is a welcome calm point. It’s enough to let us breathe before going through the emotional wringer again, but it’s not so devoid of feeling that people get lost or bored within the confines of the set. How Long Is the Night?, or more appropriately the Insomniac’s Lullaby, is one of those songs that grabs you by the neck, shakes you around a bit and then leaves you in the corner to die. Live, it does just that. A song about being in the grips of insomnia, Rickly and company dial it up and by the end of the six minutes, you’re as paranoid and on edge as the protagonist. It definitely gave you something to think about as the band exited to prepare for the “hits portion of our set.”

Hits, with all due respect, is a misnomer. The proper singles released for War All the Time were banned by MTv for being too “controversial”. There are songs that have become fan favourites, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them hits. That said, the first of this section came off the critically acclaimed but criminally underrated Common Existence. You Were the Cancer, it was said, had never been played for a real audience before. That is something that we would be inclined to believe as the finished song was jarring and erratic. It doesn’t lend itself to be easily placed into a setlist, but in this context, it worked. It provided an excellent springboard to transition into the very new Turnpike Divides. Keeping in mind that this is still not in a final stage, the track is a beautiful mess. It barrels down a sonic tunnel at top speed, taking you through emotional twists and turns along the way. In the context of the bands’ career, this feels like a natural progression from the band that gave us records as diverse as Full Collapse and A City By the Light Divided. Perfectly placed, the song easily melted into Asleep in the Chapel’s empty and desolate sonic landscape. Jet Black New Year saw Acid Tiger, We Were Skeletons, Tom Black Kites and Jonah Bayer on stage, off stage, shrieking, flailing, and leaping head long into the fray. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed at a Thursday holiday show. It was this sense of solidarity that always makes me stop and think about how lucky we are to have a scene such as this one; as fractious as it sometimes is, we are all family and we all look out for each other. The show ended just as it had begun: a flurry of tension and excitement. Closing with Tomorrow I’ll Be You, the second “New Year’s Song”, and one that is almost as chaotic and paranoid as Jet Black New Year. It seemed fitting to end the night on the same note that they started on: emotional, intense, and chaotic.

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[Tom, Black Kites]

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Then embark on a full US tour supporting underOATH starting Thursday.

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