For the most part, my musical tastes haven’t fluctuated much since high school. I tend to lean toward classic rock, ’90s alternative and anything either from or inspired by the New Romantic scene: The Doors, Soundgarden, The Cure, Morrissey, Depeche Mode. When I glom onto new bands, they tend to be derivatives of those groups (She Wants Revenge, Bloc Party, Editors, etc.).
None of which explains Thursday.
Oh, sure, lead singer Geoff Rickly’s voice has been compared to a young Robert Smith, but that’s a limited, and mostly inaccurate, comparison. Otherwise, the post-hardcore band from New Brunswick, N.J. — which I’ve written about numerous times — comes from an unfamiliar scene during a time in which I was pretty out of touch with anything new and stuck in my ways. I think it was during a trip to Hot Topic in 2001 (right before aging out of that demographic) that I picked up the band’s Victory Records debut, Full Collapse, on a whim (it was a featured album, and the “Robert Smith singing in a hardcore band” tag must have actually worked on me).
From that moment, it was on. Back then, I didn’t have a car, so I spent a lot of time on public transportation with only my portable CD player (and notebooks, of course) to keep me company. And I wore the hell out of Full Collapse. Skull-penetrating melodies. Breakneck drumming. Dissonant guitars coming from all directions. And Rickly going from whine to scream to whisper — and sometimes speech — all the time delivering some of the best-written, most insightful lyrics I’ve ever heard.
Since then, the band has challenged both its fans and the music industry with increasingly challenging releases. Thursday jumped to Island Records with War All The Time, adding full-time keyboardist Andrew Everding to help create an album of epic proportions. With A City By The Light Divided, Rickly stretched his vocal range to its limits, while the band delved into even more experimental territory normally only traveled by groups such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai.
The band went through a series of label changes as well as another aural metamorphosis, temporarily returning to Victory to release the DVD retrospective/B-side collection Kill The House Lights, and briefly doing a stripped-down tour of small clubs. After signing with iconic punk label Epitaph, the band got down to brass tacks and recorded its latest full-length effort, Common Existence, which just hit stores last week. Somehow, it’s even more dense and complicated than Thursday’s previous releases, still touching on themes of divisive politics, interpersonal relations and … ambulances. Because Geoff Rickly loves to write about ambulances.
But apparently, the kids don’t care much for introspection, political stances or, you know, intelligent music. At least, not the kids at the House of Blues on Friday night for the 2009 Rockstar Taste of Chaos tour. Thursday’s respect and prominence in the music industry may have earned the band the headlining spot on this national tour of screamo bands, but skinny-pants-wearing, over-teased-hair-wearing 15-year-olds didn’t come to see New Brunswick’s finest.
After going nuts for Bring Me The Horizon, a deathcore band whose lead singer, Oliver Sykes, screamed unintelligibly during songs and asked the crowd “Who loves to eat pussy?” between them, about half the crowd left the venue before Thursday’s set began. This worked out well for me, as I could pick a good, clear spot on the floor after snapping pictures from the photo pit, but it’s quite telling that Thursday — a band who’s been around about a decade longer (both as a group and individually) — doesn’t connect with kids who worship a singer like Sykes, who was once accused of assaulting a female fan who resisted his sexual advances. I mean, really: whereas Sykes could do little more than talk of “eating pussy” and goad fans to get really good mosh pits started, Rickly was reminding listeners to respect everyone regardless of their color, creed or sexual orientation, singing songs about supporting U.S. troops even if we’re against the wars they fight and introducing tunes with tales of his dying grandparents and growing up hoping to escape the trap of a small town.
I’ve seen Thursday play with Thrice, Rise Against and Portugal The Man. And none of these bands — all of whom are great in their own rights — come with compatible crowds. My fear is that Thursday has pushed itself so far from center that it can neither gain new fans nor cease the attrition of existing ones as it explores uncharted territory and refuses to write “hits” (hence the move from Island to Epitaph). It’s a shame, though, because the sextet continues to create intelligent, complex, driving music that forces active listening, though much like the most esoteric of free jazz and fusion records, only so many people are truly going to “get it.”