Professionally run, yet independently operated, R5 Productions books hundreds of underground shows per year, most occuring at Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church. Affectionately known as one of the premier DIY venues in the tri-state area, in winter months the venue is ridiculously hot; all other times of the year, it borders on unbearable. On a September night that packed about four hundred kids into the church basement, the venue was most certainly the latter.
Purchase, New York’s Moving Mountains opened the show with their remarkable blend of post-rock and post-hardcore, drawing up equal comparisons to the atmospheric guitars of Explosions in the Sky and the brute force of Thrice. Frontman Gregory Dunn shares vocal and guitar duties with Frank Graniero while bassist Mitchell Lee and drummer Nicholas Pizzolato round out the band’s rhythm section. The band played a varied setlist, evenly combining songs from their 2007 debut Pneuma with new cuts, such as Foreword EP material. “Cover the Roots, Lower the Stems” received the warmest response, but indeed the band’s entire set sounded great.
Young Widows played next, opening with Nick Thieneman’s bass rumblings of “Took a Turn”. Formed in the ashes of mathcore outfit Breather Resister, the Kentucky trio seemed groggy and appeared to simply go through the motions for the duration of their set. That’s not to say they aren’t talented, however; guitarist and lead vocalist Evan Patterson just seemed out of it. Drummer Geoff Paton was a machine, though, pounding away through the band’s blend of post-hardcore. The band stuck heavily to their Temporary Residence Limited debut, 2008’s Old Wounds; for “The Guitar”, Patterson looped a riff to add layers to an otherwise simple song. The full set:
Took a Turn
Gang of 3 (Future Heart)
The Heat is Here
Lucky and Hardheaded
Swamped and Agitated
Seattle’s The Fall of Troy took the stage next. While certainly enjoyable, the set was little more than a chance for Thomas Erak to shred his guitar for forty minutes. Beginning with “Spartacus” and continuing through a very well-selected setlist, the rhythm section of drummer Andrew Forsman and bassist Frank Ene provided Erak–who played well despite being sick with the flu–a nonstop chance to showcase his incredible guitar abilities.
Vocals took a backseat to Erak’s guitar, letting the crowd sing along for many of the songs while he blasted through riff after face-melting riff. Guitar Hero‘s “F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X.” drew the biggest response, but fan favorites like “Rockstar Nailbomb!” and “I Just Got This Symphony Goin’” also had the crowd singing along. A large portion of the crowd was clearly in attendance for The Fall of Troy; after the epic closer, “What Sound Does a Mastodon Make?”, from their self-titled 2003 debut, the crowd emptied out significantly. The full set, shortened due to Erak’s flu:
Mouths like Sidewinder Missiles
I Just Got This Symphony Goin’
What Sound Does a Mastodon Make?
On another tour, both direct-support The Fall of Troy and openers Moving Mountains might have outperformed the headlining act.
On a tour with Thursday, however, it just wasn’t possible.
The New Brunswick natives walked on stage, jolting the crowd forward as frontman Geoff Rickly raised his arm to begin “For the Workforce, Drowning”. With the pummeling guitars of Steve Pedulla and Tom Keeley, the song packed the crowd up against the stage, crushing anyone who wasn’t anticipating the surge. Soaked with sweat just moments into the set, Rickly fell all over the stage and indeed the crowd for the entire song.
“Between Rupture and Rapture” followed, and Rickly announced “we’re going to do things in order”, a hint that “Division St.” would be next. The 1-2-3 punch of War All the Time songs was excellent, and things hardly slowed down when the keyboardist Andrew Everding’s eerie piano helped shift gears to A City By the Light Divided‘s “The Other Side Of The Crash/Over and Out (of Control)”, a companion piece to the band’s most well-known single (“Understanding in a Car Crash”). Full Collapse‘s often-absent “Paris in Flames” was the first surprise of the evening; the song was followed by a deafening performance of the aforementioned single.
No longer used as an opening or closing track, “Autobiography of a Nation” (the third and final song from the band’s 2001 Victory Records debut) found a new home midway through the set. Following a light intro into an enormous climax, the band erupted with Rickly and indeed the entire church basement screaming the song’s first line: “Write these words back down!” Though unaware at the time, the song marked the set”s midpoint. A quick glance to crowd revealed an exhausted look on everyone’s faces. It was hot.
“Friends in the Armed Forces”–The Quicksand-inspired punk rock damnation of America’s unjust wars in the Middle East–was excellent; Thursday followed it with another Common Existence cut, “Beyond the Visible Spectrum”, a song about the passing of Rickly’s grandmother. “Signals Over the Air” was excellent, transformed from a solid studio cut into an amazing live track.
Anchored by the excellent rhythmic storms of bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule over Everding’s keys, “Circuits of Fever” was a powerful and unique addition to Thursday’s setlist. Far removed from the band’s hardcore influences, the song’s atmospheric qualities were a welcomed change of pace in a night that had yet to let up. Though it was impossible to cool down with humidity approaching 100%, the song provided the crowd a chance to breathe.
The lyrically brilliant and Christianity-questioning “Sugar in the Sacrament” closed the set, with the song’s final moments finding Rickly lunging into the crowd. The piercing cry of “this is all we’ve ever known of God, fight with me, let me touch you now” was particularly relevant in the First Unitarian Church basement. Spiking the microphone, Rickly stumbled away, following his bandmates backstage.
A two song encore began with fan-favorite “Jet Black New Year”. Not just fatigued but visibly exhausted, the band still put on a colossal performance of the the Five Stories Falling EP cut. “Love Has Led Us Astray” finished the evening. The full set:
For the Workforce, Drowning
Between Rupture and Rapture
The Other Side Of The Crash/Over and Out (of Control)
Paris in Flames
Understanding in a Car Crash
Autobiography of a Nation
Friends in the Armed Forces
Beyond the Visible Spectrum
Signals Over the Air
Circuits of Fever
Sugar in the Sacrament
Jet Black New Year
Love Had Let Us Astray
Thursday performed extremely well, and it is evident how much Rule’s drumming has improved over the last few years. Rickly is a decidedly better vocalist, as well, no longer stumbling through some of the more difficult notes. The band’s fourteen song setlist, though, is a point of contention.
With five full-length albums (and a long list of non-album tracks), playing just fourteen songs live is a bit disappointing. The band’s song selection, while strong, is also lacking variety: half of the setlist has remained unchanged for half of a decade. It is understandable to including staples such as “Understanding in a Car Crash” and “Jet Black New Year” at every show, but with such a strong collection of songs it would be nice to see the band shake things up from time to time.
The band also leans heavily on their oldest material, with just six songs from their latest two albums. It’s nice to see a band sticking to their roots and not abandoning their past, but including slightly more newer material would please long-time Thursday fans who have seen the band play the same songs night in and night out year after year. Arguably Common Existence‘s best song–and perhaps Thursday’s best song in five years– “You Were the Cancer”, was noticeably absent.
To be considered one of the decades top live acts is no small feat, and a great live performance depends heavily on both strong studio material to draw from and a passionate performance. The New Jersey six-piece succeeds on both accounts, and their live show is almost unparalleled.
Thursday continues this tour into the end of October, including two very special dates. At the band’s October 10 show in Los Angeles, Thursday will perform War All the Time from start to finish. On the tour’s final night, October 25, Thursday will perform Full Collapse from start to finish in New York City. If the band reaches comes through your area, do not miss the opportunity to catch one of the generation’s most important underground rock outfits.
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