Saying goodbye is never easy. Thrice has been my favourite band for a very long time and my musical tastes have evolved in perfect synchronisation with their musical development. ‘Deadbolt’ was one of the first songs my first band ever played in my friend’s basement, and Major/Minor is the only album I have purchased a physical copy of since moving to the UK. They have been a constant in the soundtrack of my life, and so they will continue, even as their farewell tour pushes onwards. I can vividly recall the moment I heard of Thrice’s decision to call it quits. I made my daily stop on their website to see if a tour had been announced and instead was treated to a letter by Dustin Kensrue that opened with the words: “Thrice is not breaking up.” I got that far, turned to my soon-to-be fiancée, and said “…Oh no. Thrice is breaking up.” It’s not that I didn’t believe Dustin, it’s that the opening lines read like a break-up conversation starter. I half expected it to continue, “Listen Chris, it’s not you, it’s me. We just aren’t the same people anymore. Plus, I met this guy, Duane, and he has a Mustang. It’s red.” I finished the letter, and in spite of myself, I felt a bit better. I could sympathise with the reasons each member had for pulling away from the stresses and pressures of being a full-time band, and as much as I would miss the sex, I knew that this was what they needed. The next few days would consist of passive-aggressive comments posted on Facebook and bouts of drinking with my good friend and fellow Type In Stereo writer, Casey. Of course, my initial desire for a tour announcement would be fulfilled a few weeks later, and I did some serious Internet-based gymnastics to ensure that Casey and I had tickets.
At around 6:00 pm last night, April 30th, 2012, Casey and I headed down to the HMV Forum in Camden. We paced around the streets looking flustered and nervous while we mentally readied ourselves for our interview with Dustin, but all that we really did was piss off the scalpers who would get halfway through “Hey lads, do you have any tick-” before they realised they had seen us ten times already. As Thrice had just gotten in from Belgium and had not had time to adjust to the time changes, Dustin was resting up for the show and our interview was postponed for an hour. This gave Casey and me the chance to sit down at The Bull and Gate pub, drink some whiskey, and just talk about music. We talked about the various times we had seen Thrice in the past, which albums were their best, which songs we thought they would play, and generally we gushed like little girls at a Justin Montana concert (or whatever it is the kids listen to these days). It helped us loosen up for our interview, but maybe more importantly, it helped me to come to terms with the fact that I was about to watch Thrice play for what could easily be the last time.
The opener for the show was Brontide, a brilliant three-piece instrumental band that did a remarkable job of playing interesting and nuanced songs to a venue packed with anxious fans. I was particularly impressed with their use of recording loops to create a bigger sound than three instruments can usually make, and with the drummer’s strong stage presence on a very empty stage. It is tough keeping the attention of a crowd without vocals, and doing it with one guitarist is tougher, but these boys ripped hard and pumped the crowd up for Thrice with ease.
As Thrice took the stage, the crowd was positively pulsating. This was the first show I have been to in the UK where the crowd actually seemed to be excited about the band taking the stage, and in this case, they were exceedingly so. Thrice opened with ‘Yellow Belly,’ the groovy track that opens their most recent album, Major/Minor, and the crowd was so loud that the opening riff had to fight to be heard. Over the course of the song, the crowd settled into singing along with Dustin’s pristine vocals and the band gorged themselves on the crowd’s energy. Because this was the farewell tour and Thrice had allowed their fans to vote for which songs they wanted to hear on their website, the set list read like a greatest hits album. ‘Yellow Belly’ was followed by favourites from the middle of Thrice’s career – ‘Image of the Invisible,’ ‘The Artist in the Ambulance,’ and ‘Silhouette.’ These songs were preformed with immaculate precision, and they brought the crowd to frenzied levels of screaming and stomping. ‘Image of the Invisible’ was especially powerful with its call and response verses showing a camaraderie between fan and band that was moving in and of itself.
The middle of the set drew heavily from the latter part of the band’s discography, featuring ‘In Exile,’ ‘Firebreather,’ ‘Broken Lungs,’ and ‘Words in the Water,’ to name a few. These songs showed off Thrice’s ability to be experimental while remaining melodic and relatable. One of the most interesting parts of this section of the show was the juxtaposition of ‘Identity Crisis,’ the title track from their first album, with ‘Promises’ from Major/Minor. The shift from melodic hardcore to a sound closer to alternative hard rock was notable, but far less difficult than might be expected. More than anything, it brought to light just how far Thrice has come musically while revealing the foundations at the heart of all of their albums – their strong use of dynamics, Dustin’s raw and emotional vocals, Teppei’s ability to play very technical riffs without demanding the spotlight, and their uncanny ability to make the ending of a song reach powerful climaxes.
The set came to a close with a final round of standard hits, including ‘Stare at the Sun,’ ‘Deadbolt,’ and ‘To Awake and Avenge the Dead,’ proving that they are still perfectly capable of playing hard and fast when they want to. To be honest, I think that they have refined their heavy sounds over the years, and that those early songs sound much better live now than they did on earlier tours. Amidst all of the classic songs they found room for at least one curveball. It is a ballsy move to play a cover on your farewell tour, even more so when you have eight albums to build a set from, but Thrice threw caution to the wind and played their version of The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter.’ Perhaps I am being overly dramatic, as they have played this cover numerous times, and it has weaseled its way into the hearts of many diehard fans. I am still not sure how I feel about having missed out on a chance to hear another Thrice song that night, but what I do know is that Thrice is the only band I have ever seen that did not sound pretentious or ridiculous playing a song by The Beatles. Their final song was the immense closer from the album of the same name, ‘Beggars.’ This song is so good it is honestly kind of frightening. I can’t play it while I’m driving because of the sincere likelihood that I will hear the musical orgasm that composes its ending; go into a fit of rock induced hysteria; and let go of the wheel, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, as I wander through the front window of the nearest Starbucks. This song is twice as good live.
Although many essentials had already been hit in the standard set, it was not at all surprising that Thrice returned for an encore as the sold out audience cried for more. The encore was incredibly satisfying as it gave us a chance to hear a strong selection of songs stretching right across their history. The soulful ‘Come All You Weary’ was followed by the contagious melodies and break-neck speeds of ‘Phoenix Ignition;’ and the epic swells between somber crooning and ferocious screaming on ‘The Earth Will Shake’ was followed by the perfect composite of all that is Thrice – ‘Anthology.’ No single performance of any single song could accurately summarise the career of Thrice, but this came pretty damn close. Every member of the audience sang along with every word as the boys brought the concert to a fitting close. They walked offstage to a deafening chant of “Thank you Thrice,” and almost nobody dared move until the lights turned on.
They didn’t turn on. For the first time in their history, Thrice played a double encore. It was one song long, and it was brilliant. Dustin introduced the song by stating that the band felt silly playing it, but that it was what the fans wanted. And off they went, into a roaring performance of ‘T&C.’ Is that song hilariously silly? Absolutely. Was it awesome all the same? You know damn well it was. The duelling guitar parts at the end were tight and intense while the harmonies and gang vocals were helped out by an audience momentarily transported back to the small shows that Thrice frequented in 1998. Yes, it’s dated, but it was really, really fun.
The set list was incredibly enjoyable, but it was a little bit sad to go without songs like ‘Of Dust and Nations,’ ‘Digital Sea,’ and ‘Cold Cash, Colder Hearts.’ But what can you do in Thrice’s position? It’s simply not possible to produce a set list that chronicles the history of the band in the way that a farewell show should while still giving people like me the nuances that I desire. The bottom line is that I was excited at the beginning of every song, and I sang along with every single word, the whole night through. Thrice has always meant energy, honesty and emotion, and each song played that night reminded the audience of this with force. We may never see a band that is so readily capable of expanding their sound, adapting and adopting new musical influences, and infusing complex ideas with heartfelt emotions, but at least we had fourteen years and eight albums of incredible music. Thank you for the memories Thrice, and we hope to see you again someday.
Image of the Invisible
The Artist in the Ambulance
Words in the Water
Stare at the Sun
To Awake and Avenge the Dead
All The World is Mad
Come All You Weary
The Earth Will Shake