New Year’s Eve began formally by meeting up outside Sayreville’s Starland Ballroom with a handful of friends from around the country; this was quickly followed by happy hour with the guys in Thursday. It wouldn’t be for a few hours until the show began, but it was relaxing sitting at the bar for a bit while the bands soundchecked and set up on stage.
Philadelphia’s Innerpartysystem opened the evening, setting the tone for what would quickly become an incredible New Year’s Eve party. Best described as some sort of hybrid between Head Automatica (vocalist Patrick Nissley could be mistaken for Daryl Palumbo) and Men, Women & Children–somehow mixed with a heavier dance and electronica influence–the band didn’t interact with the crowd, instead focusing their brief time slot entirely on a light show-induced dance party with catchy hooks, pulsing beats, and surprisingly strong vocal deliveries.
Set changes were brief, and New Brunswick’s The Gaslight Anthem took the stage shortly after. Fans of older Alkaline Trio records take note, this could be your new favorite band. I had only briefly listened to the four-piece going into the evening, but their incredible live performance convinced me to pick up a copy of their debut, Sink or Swim. Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Brian Fallon’s stage presence was incredibly strong for such a young band, and the rest of the band locked together tighter than any other band of the evening. Choruses became immediately crowd-singable the second time through each song, a remarkable feat considering most of the crowd was experiencing the band for the first time. Near the end of their set, they kicked into a solid rendition of Tom Petty’s classic “American Girl” before closing with “We’re Getting A Divorce”.
Circa Survive, Equal Vision Records’s progressive-rock tinged five-piece featuring ex-Saosin and This Day Forward members, came out as direct support to Thursday. The band played ten songs:
In Fear and Faith
The Only Difference
Holding Someone’s Hair Back
Semi Constructive Criticism
Stop the Fucking Car
Kicking Your Crosses Down
A great setlist mixed evenly with tracks from Juturna and On Letting Go, vocalist Anthony Green engaged the crowd the entire performance albeit stumbling through a few lyrics from time to time. A band I’ve seen quite a few times, this was easily their strongest performance, though–it was nice to see them stick to their strongest older songs as well as mix in cuts from their latest effort. Songs like “Semi Constructive Criticism” come off as tame on the album when compared live, and “Kicking Your Crosses Down” received incredibly delicate treatment. On Letting Go songs translate so much better live; I’m now rethinking which Circa Survive album is actually my favorite.
Hosts Thursday took the stage around 11PM, their first New Year’s Eve show in exactly one decade; fans of the band will quickly recite that Thursday’s first show ever was in vocalist Geoff Rickly’s basement, December 31, 1998. Much has changed in ten years, and this particularly evening the band kicked off with Kill The House Lights‘s “Dead Songs”, an interesting (but more importantly, refreshing) take on opening a Thursday show. Newly rejuvenated and reinserted into live shows, “Between Rupture and Rapture” followed, and anyone who didn’t know band’s new lyrics on the previous song certainly woke up to the War All The Time track.
“The Other Side Of The Crash/Over And Out (Of Control)” followed, and I quickly realized that the only people in attendance were actually Thursday fans–unlike many concerts where it’s something to do on a bored evening, or fans who enjoy one album or one single, the entire crowd sung along to a track that normally only saw limited audience engagement on previous tours. Met with interesting responses, A City By The Light Divided divided Thursday’s fan base; on this New Year’s Eve, however, it was the true fans who passed up other parties and attended the show, singing every word of the newer songs.
Partner to “Other Side”, “Understanding In A Car Crash” was next (as always), and the fans were treated to the first of three Full Collapse songs that evening, though unfortunately, staple-songs like “Paris In Flames” and “How Long Is the Night?” didn’t make it.
Eerie sounding, faith-questioning “Sugar In The Sacrament” came next, and it’s no question Geoff feels every haunted word sung. In contrast, the brash and abrasive “At This Velocity” kicked the crowd into a frenzy; the final drum roll segwayed into the pounding drums of “Division. St”. Not one of my favorite Thursday songs–I find it too personal and direct–I did listen to Geoff speak candidly about the song (and how important it is for him) for some time earlier in the evening, and it’s not shocking the band plays it at every show.
The first surprise of the evening came with “War All The Time”, a song Geoff often cites as too personal/emotional to play live. It’s been some time since I’ve heard the track live, and the band did absolute justice to the song. It tends to drag a little on the album, but live the song is explosive and more emotional than can be explained in text. There’s something defining about Thursday being a true “live band” with the lines “all those nights in the basement, the kids are still screaming: ‘on and on and on and on'” being screamed by everyone in the venue.
“Ladies and Gentleman: My Brother, The Failure”, a song featuring Cursive’s Tim Kasher on the album, comes off unfortunately weak live, though it could easily be one of Thursday’s strongest live tracks with an improved performance of Kasher’s lines live. As it stands, guitarist Steve Pedulla seems to handle the lines, but his delivery isn’t right, and his microphone is way too low. Perhaps letting keyboardist Andrew Everding handle the duties would fit better, though I’m not sure the band even realizes that it’s coming off so weak; someone should tell them.
By this time, Thursday is more than halfway finished for the evening, but it feels like they’ve just begun. Indeed, time flies when the band is on stage; there is never a dull moment.
Before kicking into the sexually charged (and setlist staple) “Signals Over The Air”, Geoff wished everyone a happy new year, and reasserted Thursday’s beliefs that every human being is equal: gay, straight, black, white, male, female, or otherwise; that to party with the band this evening should convey those thoughts. Like many Thursday songs, “Signals” comes off more powerful than could ever be recorded in the studio.
Two numbers from Full Collapse followed; “Autobiography of a Nation” first, one of the most intense tracks of the evening. The energy builds with a long instrumental before the crowd kicks off with “Write these words back down!”, and it immediately feels like 2001 again–and that’s a good thing.
“Cross Out The Eyes” featured Nathan Gray, vocalist of the now-defunct, but quite important post-hardcore outfit, boysetsfire (a band Geoff proudly joked that Thursday ripped off when starting out). Gray didn’t do much to help the song, and in fact routinely butchered the chorus. His talents would have been properly served screaming the song’s final lines, but instead the lines were omitted entirely.
“The Lovesong Writer” was the last song the band played of 2007; interestingly, I had a long conversation with Geoff about the song earlier in the day during happy hour. To get to that point, however, it requires a little back story:
Always puzzled by the first few lines of “I Am The Killer”, I asked Geoff what exactly is being said. He chuckled, but then began to think about it and in fact had no idea. He said that he was working out lyrics in the vocal booth during the recording of Full Collapse, and that he was mumbling them softly, and it was actually caught on tape. The lines were sped up, and eerily inserted into the beginning of the track–the band loved the unplanned result, and it remained during the song’s final mix.
I was forced to comment on my love of “Oh Comely”, the important eighth-track on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, and the nearly inaudible “oh shit!” being yelled at the song’s close, and how it seems quite comparable to the first seconds of “I Am The Killer”. Getting Geoff started on Neutral Milk Hotel (and consequently Jeff Mangum) was more insightful than possibly imaginable (or writable here, in fact, at his request).
I learned that “The Lovesong Writer” was Jeff Mangum; with a few more private facts in place, and another listen to the song, it’s undeniable. Geoff’s stream of consciousness in the song is undeniably Mangum-esque, and even its first lines draw reference to “Oh Comely”.
Concluding our discussion on a subject that we could have talked about for hours was Geoff’s recommendation of Zach Condon (as Beirut)’s Gulag Orkestar–he compares Zach to Mangum; I’m actually a few clicks away right now from seeing if I can get it on iTunes.
Cut back to Thursday’s show, and “The Lovesong Writer” hit me in an entirely new way that evening when the band closed the year with it. Taking a brief break (read: encore), they came back moments before midnight to countdown the new year.
As the the clock struck midnight, the unmistakable “Jet Black New Year” riff kicked in, balloons fell, and the Starland crowd exploded. For the first time in years, the song felt fresh, and important. The night–well, the concert portion, anyway–finished with the second part to “Jet Black New Year”: “Tomorrow I’ll Be You”, a song that the band attempted a few years ago during their annual holiday shows.
Once again, unfortunately, the band didn’t do the song justice. Not to lay the blame on drummer Tucker Rule (whom I consider an excellent drummer), but the song’s timing was completely off the entire song, and it was quite unfortunate that one of Thursday’s best live shows ended on that note. The song itself is one of the band’s best songs; if they manage to get it down, however, it could be one of their best live songs. The setlist at a glance:
Between Rupture and Rapture
The Other Side of the Crash/Over And Out (Of Control)
Understanding in a Car Crash
Sugar in the Sacrament
At This Velocity
War All the Time
Ladies and Gentleman: My Brother, The Failure
Signals Over the Air
For the Workforce, Drowning
Autobiography of a Nation
Cross Out the Eyes
The Lovesong Writer
Jet Black New Year
Tomorrow I’ll Be You
After the show, Starland held a 21+ party until 2AM. The DJs spinning left much to be desired, but the party was a nice way to still have the “out at a bar on New Year’s Eve” experience after the show. Watching the lightweight girls (and guys, surprisingly) take drunken spills was funny, and I had a few good conversations with fellow Thursday fans.
The shenanigans began quite informally after 2AM, though. After a short drive from the venue, we arrived with the guys in Thursday to party at their nearby hotel. Drinks, wildness, and discussions about a wide array of topics (Sailor Jerry, Hillary Clinton, Led Zeppelin vs. The Who, Zeitgeist, Idiocracy, world-wide currency, Zodiac signs, Prince, and everything in between) highlighted the hotel party that spanned many rooms and, later, a nearby Wawa.
An excellent concert turned into a fun after-party is certainly my preferred way to ring in the new year. Thanks to Jess Garcia for greatly helping me out earlier in the afternoon, and special thanks to Geoff, Steve, Josh, Joshie, Tucker, and Dave for being especially hospitable and kind that evening. To everyone I met for the first time, it was fun, and I hope you all have a great 2008.