Photos by Katherine Alex Beaven
This past weekend, Thursday played their first shows in over four years as part of Wrecking Ball 2016, the final hoedown at fabled Atlanta venue, The Masquerade, before it moves locations. They were one of a handful of reunited bands—including Piebald, Rainer Maria, Hey Mercedes, and The Promise Ring—playing the two-day festival, but the only band whose live return would take place there. Given that Wrecking Ball catered very much to fans of that post-hardcore/emo scene Thursday had been an instrumental part of, expectations were high.
The band’s intimate Saturday night show—inside the venue at the downstairs Hell stage—sold out before the actual festival itself. The six-piece took to the stage at about 2 AM on Saturday night and, apparently (I was ill in bed) pretty much set fire to the venue. All the talk and buzz on the ground the next day was about how good that show had been, so tension was palpable before their actual festival slot. Quicksand was the final set of the weekend, but for all intents and purposes, it was this penultimate slot that was the big one. There was chatter throughout the crowd about the last time people had seen the band live, about whether they’d been the night before, and about how much they couldn’t wait for Thursday to make their return.
And then, some 17 hours after that first show, the New Jersey band took the stage as the sun began to set on the festival. The band walked out onstage and launched into a ferocious rendition of “For the Workforce, Drowning,” which seemed to excite the band as much as the crowd—before they’d finished it, frontman Geoff Rickly was down in the crowd, hands grasping and clawing at him as he sang, filling the outside air with that conflicting set of emotions Thursday always conjures up, a sense of hope and love alongside a beautiful sadness and terrifying rage. That was the pattern for the next hour. The band—clearly rejuvenated, visibly excited, and, most importantly, very obviously happy to be playing again—ripped through a set full of both heavy emotion and sense of exuberant jubilation.
Aware from a show of hands that a good portion of the crowd had been present the night before, the band was careful to not repeat too much but not leave too much out, either. “A Hole In The World"—introduced with a shout-out of solidarity for the LGBT community—“Cross Out the Eyes” and “Paris in Flames,” all from their 2001 breakout album, Full Collapse, came early on, sending both the crowd and the band into their own kind of frenzy. There was nothing from Thursday’s last two records, but that didn’t really seem to matter, because “Counting 5-4-3-2-1,” an incredibly powerful, urgent version of “Division Street,” and a frenetic “Jet Black New Year” were all dispatched with breathless abandon, each one dripping with both intense passion and the weight of the past as it collided with the present. The shared outpouring of heart-crushing, gut-wrenching emotion upheaval from band and crowd alike was rivaled only by their sense of social justice and the same community spirit that permeated the entire Wrecking Ball weekend.
If you wanted to be cynical, you could chalk it up all up to youthful nostalgia and the excitement of people once again seeing a band that used to mean so much to them playing songs that used to mean so much to them. But the truth is that it was so much more than that. This was a band who sounded as vital now as ever, and whose enthusiasm and positivity about being back onstage was thoroughly inspiring, infectious, and energizing—even at the end of a long, sun-scorched Atlanta day. Of course, the band finished with the one song they were only ever going to finish with.
“If this is the first time checking us out,” prefaced Rickly, “this is the one song you’ll probably know,” and the band launched into “Understanding in a Car Crash.” Whether or not it was anybody’s first time, the pit went wild, voices grew hoarse screaming along, and the band surged to a triumphant, climactic finish. Behind them, the sky grew a little bit darker, but the world, if only temporarily and if only right there at that moment, seemed like a much better place.