Thrice returned to headline New York City for the first time in six years, bringing Kevin Devine, Bad Veins, and The Dig to Irving Plaza on a hot Thursday evening. Kevin Devine and The Dig embraced the chance to play in front of their hometown friends and family, while Bad Veins took the opportunity to perform in front of their biggest New York crowd to date. The mixed bill drew a varied audience, but one thing was abundantly clear: the crowd was overwhelming anxious to see Thrice, a band long overdue for a Manhattan gig.
The Dig began at 7:30PM, supporting their latest album, Electric Toys, released earlier this month. The four-piece tightly cut through twenty minutes of indie/dancey hooks and melodies, but did little to distinguish themselves in a genre overpopulated with similar acts. Still, the band’s brief setlist sounded tight, and their crisp live performance was certainly enjoyable and refreshing for an opening band.
Ohio’s Bad Veins played just after 8PM. The duo — vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastien Schultz — performed well, playing a variety of cuts from their self-titled debut, released last summer through Dangerbird Records. As just a two-piece, much of their sound was pumped in through “Irene”, a backing tape player positioned in the middle of the stage that provided additional keys, bass, and other sounds to the band’s live set. Despite the use of pre-recorded sound, though, Schultz’s solid drumming brings the music to life and makes Bad Veins an interesting act to catch in a live environment.
Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band kicked things off at 8:50, opening with a jam-enhanced version of the title track from their latest album, Brother’s Blood. The band stuck heavily to that disc, continuing on with “Carnival” and “Another Bag of Bones”; the former was extended with a brief portion of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy”. “Cotton Crush”, from Devine’s 2005 effort, sounded strangely thin and out of place compared to the more fleshed out cuts from his newer album. The Goddamn Band performed only as a four-piece, so the Brian Bonz-lead intro of “I Could Be With Anyone” was dropped, and the song actually sounded much less gimmicky without its beat-boxed intro.
Brother’s Blood bonus track “She Stayed as Steam” surprisingly made the nine-song setlist, but it was the closing cover of LCD Soundystem’s “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” that highlighted Devine’s forty-five minute performance. Devine transformed a less-than-impressive original into a beautiful work of art, essentially eliminating any need for the studio version found on LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver. A fine complement to Devine’s own “The Burning City Smoking”, lines like “your mild billionaire mayor’s now convinced he’s a king” echo with a weathered wisdom that Devine somehow manages to convey at only thirty years old. The song remains a live-only cover in Kevin Devine’s catalog for now, but with a history of recording a number of covers throughout his career hope remains that the song might one day be available for purchase.
Guitarist Mike Strandberg followed Devine’s lead through most of the set, spicing up the normally straightforward singer-songwriter cuts. On songs like “Buried by the Buzz” it worked great, with drummer Mike Fadem providing a foundation to The Goddamn Band’s jams; cuts like “Just Stay”, though, work better with Devine alone with an acoustic guitar. With a more focused-attack, Devine could be unstoppable with a backing band. Unfortunately, though, his precisely written songs wander when he picks up an electric guitar — with such an extensive collection of remarkably executed studio cuts, it’s hard not to want more out of Devine’s live act.
Another Bag of Bones
I Could Be With Anyone
Buried By the Buzz
She Stayed as Steam
New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down (LCD Soundsystem cover)
Beginning with the bassy rumblings of “All the World is Mad”, Thrice wasted no time jumping into material from the band’s latest full-length effort, Beggars. Pushing forward towards the stage, the audience sang along to the song’s catchy chorus in deafening numbers: “Something’s gone terribly wrong with everyone, all the world is mad / Darkness brings terrible things, the sun is gone, what vanity, Our sad, wretched fires”.
“The Weight” was executed with precision, and, like most of Beggars, sounds much better in a live environment than recorded. Powered by guitarist Teppei Teranishi’s cutting lead, “The Artist in the Ambulance” was the blast that finally got the crowd dancing. The night’s highlight came early in “The Earth Will Shake”, one of Thrice’s strongest cuts; the song showcases the band’s terrific storytelling, dynamic song structures, and riotous singalongs. “Firebreather” and “The Messenger”, from The Alchemy Index‘s fire disc, went back to back and concluded Thrice’s opening assault of heavy songs.
The reworked “A Song for Milly Michaelson” and “Circles” slowed things down temporarily; for “Doublespeak” frontman Dustin Kensrue grabbed a tamborine, and, despite its softer, piano-anchored verses, the song once again sparked the crowd’s fury with it’s heavy chorus: “There’s a jackboot toe tap keeping time while the children dance and play / Honey, if you think you’ve seen a crime, you just look the other way”. The abrasive qualities of “Hold Fast Hope” only sounded better in a live setting, and launching right into “Silhouette” only confirmed what the entire crowd was thinking: Thrice is nearly unparalleled in their genre when unleashing their heaviest songs. Whereas many heavy bands rely on blurred distortion and general cacophony, Thrice executes with maddeningly precise accuracy.
“Come All You Weary” showcased the band’s slower, bluesy side; “Image of the Invisible” and “To Awake and Avenge the Dead” wrapped up the band’s setlist with back-to-back full-crowd singalongs. Thrice’s encore began with a surprisingly bland take on “Stand and Feel Your Worth” but concluded with a stellar performance of “Beggars” at 11:30. Kensrue poured his heart and soul into the song’s final words: “Tell me what can you claim, not a thing – not your name! / Tell me if you can recall just one thing that’s not a gift in this life?”
All the World is Mad
The Artist in the Ambulance
Of Dust and Nations
The Earth Will Shake
A Song for Milly Michaelson
Hold Fast Hope
Come All You Weary
Image of the Invisible
To Awake and Avenge the Dead
Stand and Feel Your Worth
With about eighty minutes to pick and choose from nearly one-hundred songs in their catalog, Thrice did an exceptional job of mixing up new cuts — six from Beggars — with older, heavier favorites like 2002’s “To Awake and Avenge the Dead”. With such an extensive catalog of top-tier songs, there will undoubtedly be unfortunate omissions in any setlist the band constructs, but Thrice structured things well to showcase their diverse songwriting style. With first-class musicianship executing such a quality discography, Thrice easily surpasses their peers in a live environment and remains a must-see band.
All Thrice and Kevin Devine photos by the amazing Erica Livoti.