I am of the opinion that everyone sounds better live. There’s something to the passion people feel when they’re onstage, playing their own music, that you can actually see, it’s infectious. That, and they’ve had more practice than they did when they were recording their songs. It’s because of this, that I was very excited to see Braid (a band I hadn’t much listened to before) and Thursday (a band I’ve been jamming to for years) at a famous and storied place like the Metro. This was another installment in Riot Fest’s ‘Late Night’ series, a series of public after-parties played late night (shocker), the week preceding and during Riot Fest.
Let’s get into it. First up was Braid, a pretty popular band who I had only heard of trawling through the emo subreddit (yes that’s a thing). I would like the dear, gentle Reader to know I did my due diligence, and blasted Frame and Canvas for the month preceding this show as ‘research’. My first impression of them, as they played their first song, (‘The New Nathan Detroits’), was that they seemed like a bunch of cool dads doing something they loved – and being really good at it too. Todd Bell, the bassist, is full of energy, kicking his leg out past the edge of the stage. It seemed to me Bob Nanna (vocals and guitar, left) and Chris Broach (vocals and guitar, right) both gave him plenty of room to stagger around and fling himself across stage. They chugged through ‘Nathan’ and directly into ‘Killing a Camera’. Dads (and Moms and Others) were screaming and singing and jamming right along with them.
I had somehow been under the impression that Braid was to be doing the whole Frame and Canvas album, hence the ‘research’. Cut to me panicking when the next two songs are ones I hadn’t heard before. They ended up being ‘My Baby Smokes’ and ‘East End Hollows’ (I copped a picture of the setlist after the show, after fervently memorizing the faces of the dudes who were handed one like a serial killer). ‘East End’ had a killer solo.
They finally pause after the 4th song, and Nanna, sounding exhausted, squeaks out a “Heck Yeah”, before thanking everybody for coming out and being excited to see them and Thursday.
Slamming back into the music, they certainly don’t seem tired anymore as they rip through ‘First Day Back’, Broach helping carry the chorus with little fox wails. The crowd made sure to yell with the band “So I’ve heard that Chicago’s cold”. Next up is ‘Never Will Come for Us’, and Bell, during a particularly impassioned bout of flailing, knocks into Damon Atkinson’s drum set just a little. Damon laughs and adjusts his mic and drum quickly.
Next up is ‘Please Drive Faster’, another song I didn’t know. Throughout their set, Nanna and Broach had been trading off lead vocals and lead guitar. To the uninitiated (me), this seemed like a clever way to reserve stamina, but maybe they’ve always done that, or maybe even a little of both. After plays ‘Damages!’.
They pause again, and Nanna makes a joke about singing ‘Drive’ to your uber driver to help them take you through Riot Fest traffic. The band invites on stage their old friend Tim, who is given the microphone and then invites someone else on stage. Tim says he has a very important question, and that hes a little nervous to ask, before getting on one knee and pulling out a ring. Tim asks his friend to marry him, and his now fiance says yes. Tim requests ‘A Dozen Roses’, which the band happily obliges.
In my humble experience, sometimes there’s songs or stories you write that maybe have a specific, intense meaning or feeling when you wrote them, and then over the years, just by nature of time and experience, the old meaning gets diluted just a little, and new ones are stacked on top. That was my impression of what happened to ‘Roses’. A song that to me, lyrically at least, seemed to be about the fear and loneliness of being away from your partner for a long time, and not really having a way to spend time with them that keeps the feeling the same. At least during this show, it seemed a little the opposite. Nanna walks off the stage, and climbs up the edge of the barricade, screaming “I am not alone” while being lifted up and held in the arms of a crowd screaming with him. Like maybe they were pointedly looking at a different side of that same song.
Next up is ‘Puddle’, with some beautiful drumming by Damon. After is ‘No Coast’, where Broach does a cool technique with his guitar where he bends the neck a little, to make a warbling type of sound. Then ‘Forever Got Shorter’, and ‘Milwaukee Sky Rocket’, which was met with much cheering. Finally, the set was wrapped up with ‘The Chandelier Swing’.
It is at this point, dear, patient reader, that I feel obliged to inform you that I would have totally been a theater kid if not for dropping out of high school. If Braid was an intimate, heartfelt jam we were invited to watch, then Thursday is a dramatic, opera-style performance to witness. I obviously adore this, as I dedicated 8 of my 10 pages of notes to just Thursday.
The set opens with a recording of a somber lady singing. The lights are out except for some well-placed white overheads, and lots of fog is pumping out. All our players file out and take their places. Suddenly, the recording stops, and we’re slammed head first into ‘For the Workforce, Drowning’. Full of violent, spasming energy, Geoff Rickly (vocals) is throwing himself all over the stage. He starts clapping the beat to ‘Between Rupture and Rapture’, and the crowd immediately joins in.
A break in the music, and Geoff starts talking. It’s pretty quickly evident that he is much more talkative than Nanna. Starting out with the usual “How we feeling tonight Chicago!” and “It’s good to be back”, Geoff makes a joke about how he’s heard it’s a sold-out show, but that can’t be true, because after making a post about it on twitter, 3 different people messaged him about having extra tickets to sell him. Jokingly apologizing for some “Jersey bullshit” in the next song, we’re thrown into ‘Division St.’
“Jersey Bullshit” indeed, guitars were scratched at while lifted overhead, and Geoff sings the ‘la la la’s in the bridge with a cutting, ironic sort of tone, waving a hand as if in dismissal.
The music pauses again. Geoff’s tone is less banter, and more of a chant. “This song, is for the human rights of every person in this room tonight. This song, is for the reproductive health of every person in this room. This song, is for the sexuality and identity of every person in this room tonight. This song, is called ‘Signals Over the Air’.”
The crowd screams. It seems like everyone leans towards the stage in anticipation during the verse. Geoff points to the crowd during the chorus, as if saying to us, it’s our blood in the radio. His hands roam around and enunciate like a Broadway performer.
Another pause, and our cast is introduced. The guitarist on stage right is Norman Brannon, of Texas is the Reason (“A big inspiration for us”). On bass is Stuart Richardson, who plays in No Devotion with Geoff. On guitar stage left is Steve Pedulla (“You know who he is”), and drumming is Tucker Rule. Everyone is wearing a T-shirt (or button-up) and super skinny jeans, except for Tucker, who is wearing a sleeveless, royal blue button up, and a little red ascot.
Geoff says that 20 years ago, when this album came out, he “hated it”. He says it was angry, paranoid and claustrophobic. But now, 20 years later, he loves it. That was how those times felt, everybody was paranoid. This is the preamble for ‘Marches and Maneuvers’. Geoff holds up a snarky, ironic four fingers for “Four score and faded”, before walking away upstage.
Another pause. This is what I meant by talkative, but then again if I poured as much into this album as they did, and then let it simmer for 20 years, I would probably have a lot to say too. Geoff asks the crowd if they’ve heard of Victory Records. When the crowd boos, Geoff remarks that we must know them. He says they were a hardcore label, with the motto “We Run the Streets”. While being known for a couple of things they were also “known for not paying their bands”.
Next is ‘Asleep in the Chapel’. Steve juxtaposes Geoff’s high energy with an almost soulful, internal look. During the bridge, Geoff falls to his knees as if in prayer, singing “Oh lord, could you save us”.
All the lights on stage are turned off, except for one white spotlight in the middle, as if framing for a Shakespearean monologue. Geoff sways through “This Song Brought to You by a Falling Bomb”. Beautifully and mournfully sung, the beginning is just a warm-up for the rest of the song. Geoff holds the note on “down” until his voice breaks, and he falls to his knees again. Instead of ending the song quietly like on the record, Geoff proclaims repeatedly “By a falling bomb”.
The stage lights return, and the guitar leads us into ‘Steps Ascending’. Geoff hands us the microphone during the post chorus to help sing. During the bridge, the effects on the guitar make it sound like an organ. Tucker punches harder on the drums than on the record to give the ending a more emotional finish, while Geoff croons “I’m not giving up”.
Another break to jabber, Geoff mentions that since they got back together, the next song was always the song they close with, but they have to play it now since it was in the middle of the album. He says he feels like one of Pavlov’s dogs, and like he should just walk off stage after this one. Then he says his partner calls him a golden retriever, and that maybe he just needs to be “trained right”. Your dear, tactful author will not read too far into that.
The stage is set in blue and yellow lights, mixing to make a soft lilac. Like this, we’re led into ‘War All the Time’. The first, loud singing of “war all of the time” is given to us, with Geoff holding the microphone, stand and all, over the crowd. When the music cuts out before the refrain, everybody slumps like cut puppets on stage, before coming back to life.
Another break, and this time Geoff thanks everybody for coming to his book signing next door at the Gman Tavern. He remarks on how crazy it is that for a “DIY, Fugazi style” publishing, they’re already on their fifth reprint.
Slamming into ‘M. Shepard’, we’re dragged screaming through the song. Again during the break, the lights are cut to a spotlight, and Tucker hits a pad next to his set to play the ambient audio. Geoff is left floating during the bridge as if in space, before Tucker slams him back into the atmosphere with his drumming.
Another break, Geoff says they have two more songs for us. He says that the original record was meant to have two songs back to back, one about New Year’s Day, and the other New Year’s Eve. He says that maybe it was Victory’s fault, and “You can do your own research”.
With that we’re led into ‘Tomorrow I’ll Be You’, with Steve attending to his guitar like a potter engrossed at the wheel. His rapture is broken during the chorus when he belts out the supporting vocals. During the break, the guitar is again given effects to sound like a piano, leading Geoff like forward like a rope in a maze. The bass comes in to underline the point, with the drums finally pulling him back into the chorus.
And now for the other half of the twin songs, Geoff describes it as “A New Years where everything just goes wrong”, the chugging guitar for ‘Jet Black New Year’ plays, and the crowd explodes. There was even someone in a wheelchair crowd surfing (I saw them after the show, they were smiling, so I assume all was well).
At this point Thursday leaves the stage, and the crowd is still cheering. Someone starts clapping and chanting, and a stagehand attending to the guitars beckons with his hand to encourage it. Even the sound guy it clapping along, trying for an encore. The band relents and walks back on stage, Geoff with his arms out in front of him like a zombie.
Geoff tells a story about the end of a tour with Hey Mercedes, and how they finished 3 days early, and decided to book it home. It was snowing very hard, and they had to cross the cascades, but they figured they’re “From New Jersey, we’ve seen snow”. Cut to them sliding on ice down a hill, with the van sideways so everyone can see through the windshield a truck, also sliding down the hill towards them. He finishes saying that it’s okay, “We all came out safe and healthy”.
With that, we’re pushed into ‘At This Velocity’, followed by ‘Cross out the Eyes’. Another break, Geoff says this next one from their first album is “For all the Chicago people who put us up on their floor, and who helped fix our van when it broke down”. He said this next song is very important to him, the song that he uses to introduce people to Thursday. That song was ‘Understanding in a Car Crash’.
I must confess to the dear reader that at this point, I pretty much stopped writing notes, because I was too busy dancing. They ripped though, Geoff even getting a little silly and flapping around a bit.
Finally walking off stage for the last time, after waving and smiling a smile that seemed to say “Thank you for the enthusiasm, but please don’t ask us to play anymore”, Thursday leaves, and the house lights come on. People take their time and slowly start filing out. I snap a picture of the Braid set list, lovingly written out on a lined piece of notebook paper. A dedicated group of about 15 people wait at the barrier, tactfully ignoring the security guard begging them to please leave. Thursday set lists are ripped off the floor, and then squabbled over. After getting a picture of that, I stumble outside, and try to figure out how to be a normal person again.