When Thrice announced their hiatus last year, post-hardcore lost one of its most genuine and earnest bands. But Thrice weren’t about to say goodbye without doing things right, and hit the road for a farewell tour. Ruth Booth dodged a sea of touts in Kentish Town and got ready to blub her eyes out.
Six things we learned at the Thrice Farewell show in London:
1) Amidst the dregs of a late April London heatwave, Thrice fans and touts gathered for their last chance to dance – leastways for now. The Forum is predictably heaving – though judging from the spread of the crowd, I can’t be the only one here tonight to confess it’s been some years since I last saw Thrice. The loyalty they inspire isn’t just about their status as one of post-hardcore’s benchmark bands. True, along with fellow elder-statesmen Thursday, Thrice led a sub-genre into rock’s mainstream (no matter the perceived wisdom of the execs who cleared it), the fact that both called it a day so close together is heartbreaking, but the manner of their final days is very different. The London show of the Thrice farewell-tour is masterclass in how to do it properly.
2) This is one of the rare times when you don’t pity the support band. Not because of Thrice’s live prowess, or that their fanbase consists of some breed of Shavian Superfan, able to remain open-minded through the most demanding of bit parters when their favourite band are standing right fucking there, in the wings, oh my God. No, this is because support band Brontide are not your common or garden bunch of time sig-dancing noodleheads on a math bender. Theirs is a set of measured precision and powerful, controlled post-indie hammering. Which makes them one of the few instrumental rock bands who can sustain attention through a 35 minute support slot – and, frankly, a sterling choice for tonight’s support.
Watch a live bootleg of Thrice performing ‘Words In The Water’ at the Kentish Town Forum:
3) The challenge facing Thrice of exactly how to say goodbye when your fans’ opinions over what are your best songs are solidly split across five albums and two concept albums/four concept EPs is met with a rather neat cop-out. Thrice didn’t choose at all. Instead tonight’s setlist is a roughly equal split by album (with added b-side favourite, their cover of the Beatles’s ‘Helter Skelter‘), with individual tracks voted for by fans. It’s a chance to track how far they’ve come, from the early 00’s melodic hardcore of ‘To Awake and Avenge the Dead‘ (Identity Crisis), to the soaring post-rock of ‘Anthology’ (Major/Minor). Even then they pull out the odd surprise from the hat, choosing to close with ‘T & C’ from debut EP First Impressions, giving the track its first live outing since May 2002. Frontman Dustin Kensrue says it’s their first double encore ever in the history of Thrice (though those who own their Live at the House of Blues DVD may disagree on that score).
4) Over the years, Thrice have honed their art of the anthem, a mastery which turns ‘Red Sky’ into a soaring triumph instead of the turgid dirge it would be in less experienced hands. It’s little wonder they turned the setlist choice over to the fans. When it comes to goodbyes, Thrice have enough heartfelt anthems to tour going-on-hiatus sets for the rest of their lives, and never sound any less sincere about the sentiment.
Watch a live bootleg of Thrice performing ‘In Exile’ at the Kentish Town Forum:
5) There’s very little fanfare tonight, but then that was never their style. In Kensrue, Thrice have a frontman who proves it’s possible to have charisma without putting on an act. That without wearing a borrowed personality, you can still pour your heart, soul and sinew into it all onstage, with every straining vessel of your bruised lungs, and as a band, together, make it into something special. This is why the pit is a forest of pale skinny arms for ‘Artist in the Ambulance‘, or more than two thirds of the folks on the balcony are standing linked arms to ‘Come All You Weary‘. It really goes to the heart of what speaks to many people about hardcore music. Allegations of insincerity are par for the course as a hardcore band develops, but tonight it’s hard to see how anyone could ever level that at Thrice.
6) Walking through the venue afterwards, there’s a strange sense of timestream slip. A torn “sold out” sign, buried under stacks of plastic pint cups, is the only hint that Thrice even had merch here tonight, let alone headlined. But there’s satisfaction in the sweat stains on the backs of kids just cheering from the cheap seats. Thrice’s announcement all those months ago stated, “if nothing has broken us up by now, I doubt anything ever could.” This was done on their own terms, and so much the better. And as the bigger sign out front says, this is farewell, not goodbye. The cups will be swept up, the sweat and tears will be gone in tomorrow’s wash, but there’ll still be the echo of tonight’s mid-set pit chant. Thank you, Thrice. Here’s hoping, as Kensrue said in parting, “we’ll see [them] again sometime.”