I was not expecting such a great night of metal at 9:30 Club on Tuesday night. To my surprise, the show was sold out by the time I arrived. Animals as Leaders, a local progressive metal outfit, blazed through a set that left everyone at the show talking about them for the rest of the night. Plus, the headliners Underoath, a metalcore group I’ve been writing off for years, wowed me with their flashy stage show.
So that was a nice surprise, but really I was there for emo / post-hardcore group Thursday. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its release, Thursday played their debut album “Full Collapse” in its entirety. Let’s just say I’m pretty familiar with it. It comes up pretty frequently when I want to scream alone in my bedroom. The words to all the songs are permanently engraved in my head, or at least in my diary.* Confession time: Thursday is the band I’ve seen most live. I lose a ton of cred in the ‘metal scene’ for this, but you know what? Every time I see them, I walk away thinking about how Geoff Rickly is a grade-A frontman, who brings undeniable energy to every performance. I just can’t pass up a chance to see him.
So look, I’m a huge Thursday fan, okay? My first time seeing them was around the release of their Five Stories Falling EP, in 2002. That show was great – the singer has a ton of passion plus the riffs are pretty heavy, so what’s not to love? I think this was around the time I started experimenting with black hair dye. I even went to NYC to see them play an acoustic set at the Apple Store. (God, why doesn’t anyone else think this is cool?)
So, about this “Full Collapse in its entirety” thing! As soon as I heard this, I felt disappointment. I started thinking about all the songs they were not going to play. They won’t play “Jet Black New Year”, which they’ve played at every concert I’ve seen and happens to be my favorite. They won’t play their heaviest tracks, like “Division St.” or “For The Workforce, Drowning”. One of the reasons I think Thursday is great as a live band is, they always crafted their setlists perfectly, playing a set of my favorite songs, like they understood exactly what I wanted. But their average setlist already includes a ton of tracks from “Full Collapse”! I think when I saw them at Black Cat last year, they played four songs from it. That’s plenty for me, thanks. But once the show got under way, I stopped caring about the songs I missed. It wasn’t a full-blown Thursday concert, but it was a chance to re-examine this album I used to love. It’s a different experience at a show when you know exactly what songs are going to get played – part of the magic of shows is wondering what’s next.
The reason I love Thursday is their frontman Geoff. He roams around the stage like a madman; he swings his mic around dangerously close to the audience. And he screams with such passion! One second he’s crooning, the next his face tenses up and he lets loose. This guy is so metal! Oh, and he has great taste in music, i.e. it’s the same as mine. At the show, he name-dropped Majority Rule (this great hardcore/grind group that Thursday played with in ‘99) and Pianos Become the Teeth (this new screamo band I love).**
The first couple of tracks, like “Understanding in a Car Crash”, “Cross Out the Eyes” and “Paris in Flames”, are some of my absolute favorites. And I mostly hate moshing, but I go crazy for this band. I elbow people all night to make my way to the front and center, so I’m right in Geoff’s face, if possible. If not, at least I’m surrounded by dozens of guys just like me, who scream along to every song.
The second half of the album isn’t as strong as the first. For example, I think “Standing on the Edge of Summer” is the worst Thursday song. The lyrics are all horrible cliches about a deck of cards. I hate this song almost as much as Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. “Wind-up” also sucks – I won’t even pretend like it was cool that they played this song that I’ve never heard them play before. But their performance of the album closer “How Long is the Night?” was surprisingly good. During the bridge, Geoff put his mic for a second to scream at us (or, more accurately, at the floor) without any amplification – so raw, so powerful!
Finally, Thursday played through one track from their new album. I didn’t like it – just like I don’t like the new song that’s streaming here – but with each new album they give me a track or two that becomes my new favorite. So I’ll give it a chance, of course. And I can’t wait to catch them on their next tour, so I can hear all my old favorites, get crushed in the mosh pit, and wander home so amped that I can’t fall asleep.
Thursday was all I needed from the night, but I had a great time watching Underoath too. The first thing you notice about Underoath is their incredible lighting setup. They used no overhead lights – just lights on stage, and bright LED displays built into their amp setup. This kept the room dark for the huge projector, where they showed all manner of art-school visual imagery – Rubik’s cubes, hypercubes, tetradecagons, and bleak/beautiful landscapes.*** Projected visuals can be boring, but I felt like these had high production values, and were legitimately interesting, even though I can’t tell you what it meant. I’m sure there were Christian allegories in there somewhere, but I tried not to think about it.
I really want to rag on Underoath for a couple things. First, the most energetic member of the band is their keyboardist. He doesn’t have that much to do; he’s got a MacBook and some tiny keyboard, but they aren’t used all the time. So he’s over there, banging his head, screaming along, going crazy! Just because he’d be bored otherwise! Second, it is NOT metal to ask all your fans to wave their arms to a melodic song intro. When I see arms in the air at a metal show, they’d better have some devil horns attached to them.
But as much as I wanted to hate these guys, I couldn’t. They were legitimately heavy, and I enjoyed their performance from start to finish. My favorite moment was when everyone at the show sang, “I’m drowning in my sleep!” in unison, during the track “Dangerous Business”. I wondered, “is this really happening?” Which is hugely hypocritical of me, considering all the embarrassing words coming out of my mouth that night. Right after that, everyone broke into floorpunching, moshing, etc. as some huge riffs came over the speakers, and I couldn’t help but smile. To me, metal is about this unspoken brotherhood – a connection you feel with your fellow concertgoer. I could do without the violence and aggression, but I love that feeling where you don’t know why you’re screaming what you’re screaming, but you do it anyway, and everyone around you does it too, and it’s a beautiful moment.
* Just kidding! It was a journal.
** That’s not to mention his guest appearances on albums with hardcore bands like This Day Forward and Touche Amore. He also has a grindcore side project called United Nations.
*** The room was actually so dark that it made the mosh pit a bit frightening – all you could see were the shadow outlines of bodies flying at you.