When I found out last week that I would get to review the show - held this past Saturday night at Bogart’s, with Self Defense Family opening and Touche Amore as direct support - I smiled. I knew to show up early enough to see Self Defense Family for the first time, and to catch one of the best live acts currently playing, Touche Amore, tear their way through a typically chaotic 30 minute set.
Then I spent the next few days going through all 11 of Thrice’s full-length releases. After Beggars, my recollection of what they’d released was foggy at best, totally unfamiliar at worst. It had been years since I’d revisited some of their earlier albums. I was genuinely curious about, and genuinely surprised by, what would hold up.
It had been some time since I’d seen Thrice live. Somewhere around 10 years, I think. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them tour with O’Brother and La Dispute, two of my all-time favorite bands (and some of my favorite people). I’ve seen them play on both coasts. I’ve been a fan for about 20 years now, since Illusion of Safety released, arguably the album that put them on the map. I had a car that was lovingly referred to as The Thricemobile, thanks to the Illusion of Safety-era sticker placed prominently on the trunk. It was a late 90’s Ford Taurus. It drove thousands of miles around, to, and from New Jersey and Ohio. This is a band intrinsically bound to some very specific, very memorable times in my life. Nostalgic, sure, but still vital.
I fully expected the band to steer clear of most of their albums released before Beggars, which is, I think, an absolute masterpiece of indie/post-rock. I was pleasantly surprised when they played “All the World Is Mad” so early. It’s a groovy, righteous jam, so it was fantastic hearing this one on the stage. I gave my then girlfriend/now wife a copy of Beggars around the time we first started dating. It’s an album that’s been a throughline of our relationship since we became a “thing” in late 2010.
It came as no surprise that they opened with some new music, plucked from their recently released 11th full-length, and their first self-released album, Horizons / East. I absolutely did not anticipate hearing the title track of their major label debut, The Artist in the Ambulance. Here, I found myself thinking of the legitimate worry my friends and I had about what would happen to the band after they “sold out.” I was on the cautiously optimistic side, my friend Aaron, not so much. I was genuinely happy to have been proven right, as that album was everything we loved about the band but dialed to 11. Heavy, but never aggressive. Tight, but not formulaic. Adventurous without being alienating. Hardcore, punk rock, and even radio friendly songwriting all wrapped up in one sublime package. It was a record for the ages and, between their major label debut being so good and Thursday’s War All The Time absolutely destroying our preconceived notions of “selling out,” a hell of a time to be a fan of the new “alternative.”
If they were going all the way back to album #3, what else should I expect?
Throughout their career, there have been few albums that didn’t quite land for me as some of their others have. But don’t get me wrong - their transition from mathy hardcore punk rock to expansive and thoughtful post-rock has been one of the best and most consistently noteworthy evolutions of a band born of a very specific time and place that I can remember. Their newest is a relevant and timely addition to their catalog, and I’m glad they’ve been able to take it out on tour. Hearing some of the Vheissu tracks live, though, was exhilarating. Stirring. An underrated album full of warmth and doused in Blues, it was a turning point for the band. Hearing “Of Dust and Nations” live, watching the intricate guitar work and sheer velocity of that track come to life… Superb. Closing their set with “The Earth Will Shake” was an all-time show stopper for me and the highest of notes to end a set with.
I think most Thrice fans would agree that the 4 volumes of The Alchemy Index are among their most challenging, and ultimately most rewarding albums. My good buddy Jay and I would end up discussing those albums quite a lot, the way each track was a deconstruction of what Thrice had done up to that point, how the pieces would get put back together and how they would make more sense as the rest of their career unfolded. If you’ve not heard it live, “Firebreather” is a monster - probably their heaviest track of the night and it was awesome, in the most literal meaning of the word, to hear.
Almost every album in their catalog is touched on during an hour and twenty minute set. The stage setup and lighting is just as epic. If you’re able to catch them before the tour wraps up in a couple weeks, though, I wouldn’t expect to hear any Identity Crisis or Illusion of Safety era tunes. Though I’d be curious to see how they fare when juxtaposed to their infinitely more ambitious indie and blues tinged post-rock, it makes sense. It’s hard for a band of almost 25 years to make sure they respect their roots while keeping a weathered eye on the horizon, but I do think Thrice managed to thread that particularly daunting needle with a genuine, sincere appreciation for what they’ve been able to do since 1998. Much like some of their peers - think Taking Back Sunday, Thursday, Deftones, etc - they’re a band that recognizes what makes them “them,” but they’re not afraid to move beyond the nostalgia in a way that assumes nostalgic attachment but understands that their fans appreciate growth and maturity.
The questions I walked away with at the end of it all were fairly personal. At what point am I too old to be doing this? When do I stop going to these shows, supporting these bands? I decided that when a band like Thrice looks like they’re not having fun anymore, that they’re phoning it in - that’s when it’s time for me to step away. Until then, though, I’m happy to show up, sing along, remember what I remember, and make some new memories along the way. I’m glad to say that Thrice seems to feel the same way. Go see them if you can.