May 10, 2012 was a night to remember in Austin, TX. It was presumably the last time the band Thrice would roll through town and rock us. Those that have discovered and latched on to the band Thrice know how special they are. For those that haven’t caught on … well, it’s kind of too late for you to glimpse how great this band really is.
Critics have called them “post-hardcore,” whatever that means. What it probably means is that this Orange County, CA band has borrowed a few elements from the hardcore punk scene and risen above it to incorporate something that is almost antithetical to the raw genre – and that is melody. What if Mark Salomon had a prettier voice or what if U2 had been birthed in the OC at the end of the ’90s? What if it wouldn’t actually kill Blindside or the Refused to slow it down and keep the tempo down for an entire song or two? These are questions that only mildly come close to define this musical, emotional and still street credible band.
Anyway, O’Brother opened the show and boy did they rock. When this band first came out they were kind of quirky and bounced a long with almost a whimsical style that exuded youth. Now they storm a stage with a sonic assault that is powerful. The third song swung from a Muse-like vocal wafting to Hendrix string-bending riffage. When I reviewed their latest album (Garden Window) in our December issue #151 and said that they’d left their influences like mewithoutYou behind in a dust cloud of hard rock and noise, I wasn’t kidding. Their current live show drives this point home like a fat wooden stake through Barnabas Collins’ cold vampire heart. This band makes a lot of noise with three guitars. They can be very atmospheric but with almost a Sabbath heaviness. The vocals are used to soar like a bird and also provide a sort of atonal background at times and then shift into more vocal histrionics with nary a transitional bump. The last song they played had lots of building crescendos and Thrice-like crashes. So far this three-band bill was really good.
Animals as Leaders are not a real band. What I mean by that is that they are not human beings. They are worse than the Blue Man Group. They need to be banned from all live music venues. The reason is they are robots. No human being could actually play the tune-age that these guys deliver. Two eight-string guitarists wail away in front of a machine-like drummer, spreading their nimble fingers over a neck of frets that’s as wide as a kitchen cutting board. How they hit their intended notes is beyond me. They’d be tapping so fast and fluidly that it sounded like keyboard trills. They also manage to fill up the sonic spectrum with low, mid and high noodling. Simply amazing and a sight to behold. I had heard so much hype from impressed friends that I was really looking forward to seeing if it were true myself. Dream Theater on steroids. Like I said, these guys should be outlawed.
Thrice came on at precisely 10 o’clock, starting the beginning of the end of my Thrice-watching live experiences forever. I had a photo pass, so for the first four songs I had the best seat in the house. The band charged into “Yellow Belly” and wasted little time running into “Image of the Invisible” second and “The Artist in the Ambulance” third.
The band was very tight. In “Silhouette” frontman Dustin Kensrue sang of “eyes speaking in tongues” and the audience knew what he was saying and sang along. The pace stayed fairly quick, but not rushed. The band sauntered away with the old Western vibe the song “In Exile” brings as it laments and hopes for a day when we’ll see “face to face.” The band plays a relative hit in the tune “The Weight,” which plods along and captures an urgency and passion as the singer promises, “I won’t leave you hanging on.” The band almost cashes that check, as it were, as their set just keeps delivering greatness song after song. Pretty soon you just got caught up in the music and forgot about time. It was all very now. I was so glad to be there.
Kensrue’s voice sounded strong and powerful. The rest of the band was also pretty obviously very comfortable in their skin. Like I mentioned before, there was no sense of rushing through the set. None of the songs sounded like they were speeding up too fast. They were settling into their grooves with a precision, but also with lots of “feel.” The band members, like bassist Eddie Breckenridge and guitarist Teppei Teranishi were often skipping around on stage. It looked like they were really having fun. Kensrue sang out the words of concern to a reckless Icarus: “And know your the only one that means anything to me” (in “Daedalus”) and the band sounded so good and steady that it was easy to judge that Thrice is so at the top of their game. If there was ever a way to go out on top, they’re in the process of doing it right now on this tour.
The “Iron Bars” song – “The Earth Will Shake” sounded powerful. The audience was into it. They sang along with gusto at the ending buildup. The band thanked the crowd a lot, but without sounding trite or disingenuous. At one point Kensrue recounted how they had played Austin at the end of their first tour some 12 years ago. They affirmed to the crowd that they couldn’t do all this without them.
I also have to say that the mix was great tonight. You could really hear the instruments blend well together as well as stand out from each other at appropriate times. Teppei’s guitar, in particular, really sounded great and cut above the din at all the right times and also provides nice soaring segues between songs.
Kensrue sings the question: “Now can they see me when they close their eyes” and then he appears in the next song sans guitar holding the old microphone while Teppei played crashing keyboard samples. It created a cool vibe that matched the lyrics: “Hear my voice goes to ones and zeroes.”
“Star straight into the sun and I will close my eyes.” The audience sang that last line of “Stare at the Sun” as if on cue. The longtime Thrice fans all over the large room at Emo’s East were having a moment with the band. It was almost private, yet oh so communal.
Dustin jumped into the pit and stood on the barricade to hardcore scream the end of “To Awake and Avenge the Dead.” Teppei played very metallic scales. He was probably trying to impress the Animals As Leaders guys. (ha ha)
The band again thanked everyone for their support for these 14 years “or however long you’ve been listening. We feel very blessed to be making the music we want to make.” Then they closed the set with “Beggars.”
For an encore, they came out and played three songs: The slow, bluesy number (“Come All You Weary”) that called for those with ears to cast their cares onto someone capable of handling them all and “find rest for your souls.” A fiery “Phoenix Ignition” was next, which had lots of great dynamics to it. “T&C” was the third and final encore (or so we thought). “Thank you guys. Have a great night. See you sometime,” Kensrue spoke and they all walked off stage.
The crowd screamed for more and the band came back out and obliged with a fourth encore. “It’s for you guys,” they said and they finished with “Anthology.”
What a great show.