Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 12:59 a.m.
Thrice at the Observatory
*This post was updated on June 21
There wasn't really much left for Thrice's Dustin Kensrue to say as his band capped the last of its farewell shows on Tuesday night at the Observatory in Santa Ana. After three hours, 33 songs, and a total of 14 years together, their final night of sweat, screams and shredding did most of the talking for them. And besides, when Kensrue isn't growling into the mic, the vocalist/guitarist/father of three doesn't seem like much of a speech giver. But since the sold-out crowd spilling over the barriers in front of him demanded one at the end of their set, the 31-year-old frontman obliged--opting to leave things on a simple, hopeful note.
"Thank you all so much...even with all the places we've been, there's never been a place that rivaled home," he said. "We're thankful and we'll see you in the future at an undisclosed time."
Regardless of when the band chooses to reemerge (three years...we're calling it), they certainly used last night as an opportunity to purge every aspect of their sound onto an audience that obviously spent years memorizing their lyrics like scripture. Bodies convulsed in time to the punishing rhythms of drummer Riley Breckenridge and his brother Ed, who thrashed with pure energy on bass the entire night. For a band with 8-albums-worth of material to its credit, we'd anticipated their set to be a bit more of a grab bag, though it basically ended up being a reverse timeline of their sound.
Matured, mid-tempo jams like "Promises" from the recently-released Major/Minor overtook the first half of their performance with textured, hard-edged nuance of a post-hardcore band all grown up. Bathed in smoky stage light, guitarist Teppei Teranishi smirked as he looked down at his guitar, delivering a haunting swirl of notes during "Daedalus." Even though it was clear the band was trying to catch us up with their evolved take on thought-provoking rage, it had a visible effect on audience members in the pit, looks on their faces suggested they were still waiting to collectively explode like a powder keg. Anything off of 2002's Illusion of Safety or their debut,Identity Crisis, could've lit the fuse.
But what the first half of the set lacked in blood-boiling brutality, it made up for in manly, choral togetherness. The drum machine-infused intro of "Red Sky" quickly unleashed its slow, full- throated refrain that inspired plenty of visible, arm-over-the-shoulder bro hugs and collective "Ooooh" chants that filled the room until the song burned out.
The first half of the set ended around 9:30 p.m., with Kensrue returning for a solo, acoustic performance. It felt a little bit like watching him on Sundays playing to a congregation for Mars Hill Church, where he heads up the music of a worship service at the Observatory on the exact same stage. But it was alo a chance to showcase a quieter, gentler Thrice--though we wish the rest of the band could've participated and created some extra lush textures on "Stare at the Sun" from 2003's The Artist in the Ambulance.Of course this part of the show did afford some one-of-a-kind moments that lifted the rockstar veil off of the Irvine-based frontman. During a slow-burning version of "Disarmed," Kensrue had a brain fart and mixed up a couple chords. Smiling at the audience, he let us know that he is indeed human. "C'mon guys, there's 33 songs."
Rejoined by the band around 10:20 p.m., it was obvious that Kensrue, Teranishi and the Breckenridge brothers were ready to blow things up for the last time with some serious chord-chugging material and some back-in-the-day brutality from the early part of their catalog. The distortion squall of "Firebreather" was the catalyst sparked an arm-wielding sea of mosh pit madness, with bodies flowing into one another while security guards grasped at floating crowd surfers. The crowd's night was made thanks to a salvo of searing metal riffage and guttural howls from Identity Crisis--their debut album which they rarely pull from. The album's title track, as well as "T&C" and "Phoenix Ignition" were definitely a few of end-of-the-night highlights driven home by the legion of teenagers and twentysomethings that shouted the lyrics like a legion of Roman soldiers.
The barrier between the stage and the crowd blurred in the final stretch--a.k.a the Illusion of Safety portion--when Kensrue jumped into the crowd and let a few backstage guests take over, including guitarist
Neal Tiemann Joey Bradford from Hell or Highwater (Atreyu drummer Brandon Saller's latest project) during the final, brutal thrust of "To Awake and Avenge the Dead." Fluttering metal fingers were raised toward the stage as the band gave up their last shards of intensity in front of the sold-out venue. Though we're sure that their hiatus will be a tough on the band and hardcore fans that have gone the distance with them, walking off stage to the deafening chant of "Thank you Thrice!" was one hell of a way to go out.
Critical Bias: I recently found a long CD case of Thrice's Illusion of Safety in my closet and had a momentary high school flashback. That album pretty much defined my sophomore year.
The Crowd: Skate punks looking to crowd surf, sweaty bros hugging it out.
Overheard: Basically every other person I stood next to was talking to someone about some personal story involving the guys in the band. I definitely called bullshit on a few of them.
Random Notebook Dump: To those of you who snagged one of the beach balls the band threw out during "Deadbolt"...I unapologetically hate how lucky you are.
[For the record: The original version of this post misidentified the guitarist who joined Thrice on stage as Neal Tiemann from Hell or Highwater. It was actually Joey Bradford, the bands bassist, who was playing guitar.]