Last year I watched as three of the most influential bands of my youth called it a day. At the beginning of the year, RX Bandits announced their hiatus. Since most deaths happen in 3's - back to back, Thrice and Thursday decided to take their breaks as well. What I've been thinking about leading up to seeing Thrice's farewell show tonight in Austin is what each individual band has shown me. RX Bandits showcased the fact that some of the best bands can't be pinned down to any particular genre, combining many different elements to create a distinct sound. Thursday showcased an even level of anguish and beauty - something that has carried with me throughout my favorite bands. It's a band that has maxed out at both the heaviest elements and the most melodic (perfect example: "Past and Future Ruins").
Then there's Thrice. As I've talked about the idea of bands being challenging over the years within our spectrum of tastes - Thrice has certainly taken the reigns for me in that aspect when it comes to my favorite bands. I would jam a new RX Bandits or Thursday record for months on end when they were released. Thrice was a different story. It's not that their sound shifted so drastically between records, it's that each record truly had to marinate, cook on high and then allow my palette to absorb each flavor that every album had to offer. The crazy thing is, I'm unsure why exactly that even happened. As I listen to The Artist in the Ambulance now, I can rock "Paper Tigers" heavier than I ever did the day my friend bought the record for my birthday. It's a song way heavier than anything on The Illusion of Safety or the first time I heard "Phoenix Ignition" and my jaw dropped and wanted more. For some reason it took months to sink in. It took half a year to fully grasp Beggars and hearing the Major/Minor cuts live last Fall really breathed a different light into them that I was not seeing. It's a very bizarre concept, but I know it's not a concept that only effects my tastes as a listener - a staunch one at that.
It's hard for some to write punk rock forever. Thrice has easily been that band to shed light on that very idea. Here's a bunch of guys who were too technical for the mainstream for some, and sometimes a bit too mainstream for some of the underground. As they grew, fans either loathed the direction into the more conventional (yet never lackluster in structure) or opened up to what the band were growing into. That idea of being open to one's growth is very important in punk rock. It's an idea that you either learn or forever miss - and end up forever stuck listening to a small library of what you think you know, which actually is false. You become forever jaded in the past or stubborn to new elements in music you're simply dismissing. Again, I know because I've been through those motions many a time and fully regret it. It takes a big man to admit his close-minded behavior at a young age, and another to pass that knowledge along so it saves another generation from closing their doors on new ideas and progress outside of what the media and labels want to sell their bands as or who to sell their bands to.
As I'm sitting here late writing this up, my Facebook feed loaded up again, and my buddy Daniel posted something I thought was pretty special after he saw the band in Dallas last night…
If my blog a few nights ago seemed angry, it's because of sentiments like the one above. That's coming from a friend of mine and someone who's in two bands himself. That's not a writer who has some sort of "authority," it's just a person who feels passionate about music. Daniel is not only me, he's also you. His sentiments are your comments. It's your arguments. It's your attachment to something "special." To say something is "special" though is to say it contains depth and honesty in the music that is being sold to you rather than the image you are actually being sold to from media outlets, PR and management and the lackluster thereafter. I know it's a tired argument, but it's the truth that we subconsciously forget. Thrice isn't the only band. There are thousands that share the same spirit and another thousand that don't and somehow make it further to only become a mark of forgotten history.
Thrice has a been a band that taught me the payoff of being challenged by music. They gave me a decade of thinking and rethinking the elements of rock and roll. I know I've thrown around the word "post-hardcore" a lot and tried to pick apart and restructure what that term really means, but Thrice is definitely a contender along with bands like Cave In and Poison the Well who stepped out past their hardcore roots to make careers out of challenging their fans with what they could come up with next as a band. Like the aforementioned, they didn't fail many of us when showing us a new trick as they learned a few themselves each time around.
When you're young, music is really cool. But the reality is that you can't ever truly appreciate the music you love until the artists that created it disappear. The day they say, "We're not going to do this anymore. Do not expect new music from us until further notice," is punishing to many of us. There's a Bill Burr joke about appreciating a dog more when you're older, because when you're younger - everything is awesome! "Why wouldn't a dog be awesome?!" The same can be said about your favorite bands. Whether you're reading this and you just discovered that band, or you're an older person like myself who's halfway between giving up on discovering new music because "They don't make it like they used to," and still striving to keep an ear to ground - I hope this week's column sheds some light on why we're all going to be deaf at an early age or clutching our records when we hear about that one-off reunion and so forth.
I anticipated that 2011 would be an amazing year for music just like the rest of the staff and this fine community on the site. What I didn't anticipate was that I would lose three bands this year, that without them, I wouldn't have an opinion, wouldn't be writing and wouldn't devote my life to this thing. Whatever that thing is.
There's more than one reason why the RX Bandits, Thrice and Thursday are cuts in my musical Rosetta Stone. Thinking about it the other day as a third story came to a close, I couldn't have understood what I'm about to say without these three bands, and a few others that really have pushed what I think and continue to expand on my palette of tastes and audible experiences.
Without drudging on anymore, here are five things that I learned about music from three of the best bands I've come across in my youth up until their current indefinite hiatuses.
1) It's Not That "Album X" is Their Best Record, There's Just a Moment Attached To It…
Sometimes it's hard to meet bands and not say, "Hey, [album] is one of my favorite records of all time." Then you sound like every other asshole who thinks their new direction is boring, when in fact it is leaps and bounds above the aforementioned record. The thing is, that first record got you excited and all fan-like because either (a) you listened to really shitty music up until that point or (b) some records just reach certain people at a certain time. Maybe the disc had answers we were looking for or a conversation we just found interesting. The things we learned from it is what keeps it herald as such. We sometimes tend to stick to those bars that were set though. Unfortunately, instead of appreciating when the same bar is raised years later - we tend to get stuck in the first sense of awe from way back.
Which leads us to...
2) Progression Can Kill a Band or Make Them Stronger…
A lot of bands have called it a day after attempting something new and losing a large chunk of their audience. They're fighting a constant uphill battle. You can adapt and fade away or you can progress and lose as well anyway. The variable is how fast you will burn up or die out. If you're good at it. If you have the ability to shift your sound a bit and still turn heads - that's a feat that most can't pull off, and it's how some bands tend to go from a favorite band status to a cult one. This is a huge deciding factor for who my favorite bands generally are. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it is for most, because...
3) The Best Bands Will Challenge You, And It'll Be Rewarding…
I think the best bands - think about it, your favorite bands - will create new records that are not meant to be absorbed right away. My favorite bands - their new records - they never capture me the way that first one did. With time, I actually like chipping away at what I like about them though. When a new record does capture my attention with time though, I'll spin it and spin it and spin it and then go back to the band's whole catalog - see how it really stacks up. The results might just surprise you as you grow older. Those new tastes will reflect on other new tastes and will lead you to more great bands or different styles of music you wouldn't normally listen to. Most importantly, it will lead the best listeners to keep true in being open to new sounds.
Now, that all said, the following will happen...
4) You Will Most Likely Hate Some of What Comes Out…
That's okay. You disagree with your best friends at times? Maybe the sequel to a favorite movie just wasn't good at all. Your favorite beer didn't exactly knock it out of the park with their winter lager? It's okay. Just breathe. Does that mean you now hate a band when there's an extensive catalog of what you love? Absolutely not. This seems to be the one people get up in arms about the most with bands they hold close to. This is one of the negatives about being a person who dictates their life by the crescendos and decrescendos of their headphones. Then one day, you wake up, and see some awful news...
5) Goodbyes are Hard, But Can Be Temporary…
So many of us have gotten into bands long before our time. Bands that influenced the bands we listen to now. We got into them post break-up. It's a different feeling. We can't lose something that we never experienced first hand. (note: A reunion show is nice, but itis not the same thing as the past moment when it was happening.) It's times like these with bands like these that have had this sense of longevity (loosely defined for the sake of argument) that are shattering to many of us. As we've seen in the last couple of years, just because a band says it's over - doesn't mean that it's over too. So in the wake of a year that penned the final chapters (for now) of three amazing acts, I'll hold my discogs close, remember every moment and do my best to share my memories with others and hand them down to a younger generation of listeners. One day, they might get to see that reunion tour. I'll finally get to say, "I was there." I'll look like the creepy old dude in the back, but I'll have my moment one way or another.
Longevity. Some have it, and others don't. For Thrice, they certainly have proven the word with their career and progressive releases throughout the years. Along with bands like Thursday and Poison the Well and Saves the Day, these groups of musicians started a decade (or more) ago and moved forward gracefully conjuring up new soundscapes and testing fans along the way. Unfortunately at times - losing some.
After quite a long year for the members of Thrice, each experiencing family tragedies back home that forced the band to cancel quite a few dates, the band are back out on a headliner backed by Kevin Devine and his Goddamn Band and upstarts Bad Veins and The Dig.
The show last night proved to be one of the best bills of the summer thus far.
The Dig opened the night in sonic landscapes filled with "oh's" and "ah's" and hitting beats and harmonies showcasing songs off their debut full length Electric Toys. The band is certainly a fresh look at some upstate rock in the vein of the new millennium "the" bands. But instead of being drugged out and flat, there's a loving flow to The Dig's music. This is a highly recommended new artist.
Bad Veins took the stage to audience curiosity as frontman Benjamin Davis' mic set-up included a telephone more suited for your grandmother's house and a large ADAT tape machine running background. All in all, the band's set was quite solid for two guys belting out some great numbers. Maybe not my thing, but definitely worth giving an ear to.
Kevin Devine took the stage next with his Goddamn Band. As always, the musician was spot on. There's not enough kind words I can say about Devine without sounding like a) a superfan or b) a suck up, but the man has worked his ass off not only as a touring artist, but has come to write some of his best work to date, including his new song "She Stayed as Steam." It's always a delight to see "Carnival" and "Brother's Blood" played live. Teppei Teranishi even came out to help out on that final one.
The crowd finally filled out just before Thrice took the stage, and as they opened the set with "All the World is Mad" and "The Weight," fist pumped to every word and a punk rock sing-a-long abounded in the sweltering Texas heat. The set was pretty even with tracks from Beggars ("Doublespeak," "In Exile"), Vheissu ("The Earth Will Shake" "Red Sky"), The Artist and the Ambulance ("Silhouette" "The Artist and the Ambulance") and even The Alchemy Index EP's. It was the night's closer of The Illusion of Safety's "To Awake and Avenge the Dead" that threw the crowd in a frenzy, and as a friend took Dustin Kensrue's guitar, he took to the crowd with a mic for the last words and a unison of fans and uproar of "TO. AWAKE. AND. AVENGE THE DEAD!" closing the set. As an encore, the band came back to close out the night with "Beggars," possibly one of the best songs the band has written to date.
I was able to finally sit down with Dustin and Ed Breckenridge to talk about The Illusion of Safety for the book I'm working on, and there's definitely one thing that makes sense of the band's catalog now: it's always been about trying to cram in all of the band's influences both as a whole and individually. For Thrice, it has always worked whether you liked it, left it, or have - to this day - stuck by it. With so many bands producing so much of the same cookie cutter garbage and succeeding, it's nice to see when hard work and creative thought win out in the end.
It's been quite a decade, and not just for music, but for my personally. In the past decade I survived high school, made it through college and am now writing for this website, working on an anticipated book, living in Austin and having the time of my life interviewing and meeting people I wouldn't even believe possible as I was listening to them on a Walkman some ten years back.
It's crazy to believe that we have seen an industry reject and embrace a digital model in ten years. No, no...we must party now like it's 2012 Mr. Prince. I've cared less about a collapsing economy, while at the same time have been denied health care and working a part time job with a five year degree in my hand, just to pay back the debt of that same slip of paper.
When I wake up to a flawless Sun, and find fantastic used Beatles albums on my birthday, or discover the best 24 hour bakery for breakfast tacos that are much better spent on than the fast food grime - well, I believe everything will be okay.
As I climb up the hill, slowly gaining worth, trying to hold up the rock of responsibility against the collapsing mountain below - our faults crack the Earth here and there, only to be mended in time, or show us where we needed to end up in the future, only to piss and moan away our present, and forget what we learned of our past. blah blah poetic blah.
This past decade was my decade because of the relationships, clawing, and motivation I put into this life thus far. Tomorrow I will be posting my interview with Max Bemis. I went about it a different way to be challenging, or a rushed mistake - that's for the reader to decide.
Needless to say it has been quite a year on top of quite a decade of learning the ropes of this physical obstacle course we call life. If for some horrid reason I don't awake tomorrow - I would expect that I left some sort of imprint on this site, on this city, on this Earth.
"If there's one thing I know in this life, we are beggars all..."
Thanks Dustin. Words to end a decade, and start another - and so on. I'm thankful for all of it and more that I can't even begin, or ever will, understand.
It's raining, so I decided to sit up at the bar and grab a whiskey and coke and relive what just happened only a few hours ago - a few minutes ago.
The night started unfortunate, as learning that The Builders and the Butchers would not be performing for the evening. Sure, this seemed to mean longer sets by both Thrice and Brand New, but I can't say enough good things about this band, and my excitement to be able to seem them. The best way to describe their music is that it sounds like a sinister, southern version of The Decemberists.
Thirce's tour manager Damon Atkinson said Builders are not off the tour, but simply fixing van problems, and hope to be at the next show in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
That aside, Thrice took the stage to blue backing lights and "All the World is Mad." Their first set of the tour, it was a solid mix of songs, mostly weighted in Beggars material. The band played "The Arsonist," for which they said they've only tried once before - maybe - and cuts from Vheissu ("Like Months to Flame" "Of Dust and Nations"). The band played their cover of "Helter Skelter." To be honest, it's a toss up between them and seeing Portugal. The Man's live off-the-cuff version, but I'll keep my mouth tight as too which I liked more live...it was a close race, I'll say that. The band ended with "Beggars," which may just be one of the best songs the band has ever created. On every level - energy, feel, lyrics, etc. - it is a winner.
Brand New took the stage to low lights, and with about an hour and half ahead of them. With a small intro, the band crept their way into "You Won't Know," everyone sharp and energetic.
Playing into earlier hits ("Degausser" "I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't" and "The No Seatbelt Song"), the band sound like they were deconstructing their previous works in a devious way: frontman Jesse Lacey creating guitar bursts and feedback during the bridge to "Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades" to the heavy ending of "The No Seatbelt Song," either the band was having fun over boredom of their older songs, are they were meticulously deconstructing what they created. Another laugh amongst the band was held when Lacey seemed to purposely drag on his part of the "Jesus" outro. Guitarist Vin Accardi thought this was hilarious.
The band launched into "Vices," guitarist Derrick Sherman rattling his guitar against his amp while violently shaking the amp against his stomach. Lacey then sang something to start "Gasoline," but launched into it thereafter, drummer Brian Lane and bassist Garrett Tierney steady on rhythm.
The night ended with Lacey, guitar, and an Indian-style sitting Accardi backing vocals on "Play Crack the Sky." That was it. No encore.
Though I missed As Tall As Lions play an off show over at Stubb's just hours later, I would say the show I saw was great. Two bands I have the utmost respect for as musicians: one who continue to challenge themselves and their fans, and one who continue to devilishly deconstruct themselves and give their fans something new every show, whether those fans like it or not.
Today, along with the New Junk Aesthetic, I picked up Thrice's Beggars, with anticipation of a vinyl to come.
Weeks ago, I did not purchase the album digitally. Honestly, I didn't want to pay for it three times, when I knew I was going to pay for it twice.
This brings up the discussion of physical and digital releases, yet again. With the digital age, we are able to hear anticipation with the click of our index finger, or thumb depending. It also takes away from the album experience of waking up, heading to the store, and blasting it back to the house, where you will almost immediately transfer the CD, or vinyl, to a home format (probably to the computer+speakers) and continue to listen through while skimming the booklet, and awing at the album's artwork.
If you haven't already updated, this week was the release of iTunes 9. With that release, Apple announced iTunes LP, which is less a digital wax and 12 inches of artwork, and more a digital kit experience.
I hope this is not the next step in our music evolution. Virgil Dickerson had some great things to say about this as well.
Sure, if you are not a tangible nerd like me, I encourage you to continue to support great music through the new form of digital releases. I am happy that I waited to get Beggars on CD, even though I transferred it to my computer and iPod already. The artwork is stunning, and reminds me a lot of the The Artist and the Ambulance. Anyone who purchased the limited edition packaging of that record knows how awesome it was with the individual cards for each song -- stunning!
I'd really hate to get TV scanned into my brain, and I'd hate to have to go back to my computer for lyrics and great artwork. Nothing will beat a beautiful tangible medium, as well as some sort of physical back-up in case of a crash...who knows?
I also completely back, and can't stress enough to labels and vinyl distributors alike, to combine their wax with a digital download card. We can have our cake, and eat it too.
The jury is still out on how I feel about Beggars. I need a few more listens, but it definitely is one of the best records to come out this year, and keeps growing more beautiful with each listen.
Could anticipation be killing the tangible form, even if we support it in the end? Time will tell I guess, or make fools of us all.