Unlike many of their contemporaries that rode the post-hardcore wave to major label relevance back in the early-to-mid-00s, Thrice has managed to remain relevant nearly a decade later. The band that first garnered attention for their mix of angular guitar riffs, thrash-lite tempos and Dustin Kensrue’s emotional vocals may have initially lost some fans as they morphed with more atmospheric and less noisy albums like The Alchemy Index series. But bold songwriting choices are what put them on the track for long-term success when the kids stopped caring about rote sing/scream dynamics and mopey emo lyrics. Having just released their 10th studio album Palms this year and headlining major venue like The Wiltern, the band shows no sign of slowing down on a night that happened to also be Kensrue’s 38th birthday.
First up for the night was Teenage Wrist, an alternative rock band from Los Angeles. The band shares a label with Thrice — venerable punk label Epitaph — and as the openers they explored the various songs from their debut LP Chrome Neon Jesus. Serving as a fairly big-name opener was Los Angeles punk ‘n roll group The Bronx. Recently they have been performing more often as Mariachi El Bronx, their mariachi alter-egos, but tonight it was all straight-ahead riffage and Matt Caughthran’s energetic pogo-ing and exhilarating shouting. The band peppered some deep cuts with newer tracks from their first new album (as The Bronx) since 2014, simply and appropriately titled V like “Stranger Danger” and “Two Birds.”
Finally it was time for the night’s headliner to take the stage. As mentioned above, Thrice has morphed and changed significantly throughout their careers, heightening the anticipation of what sort of set the night would entail. Would they send the audience on a time warp and focus on the thrash-punk of The Illusion of Safety? Would they turn their attention to newer songs from their most recent album? The answer would lie somewhere in between as the group appropriately mixed new, less-familiar tracks with some older set standards.
The night started with the band performing “Only Us,” one of the singles from Palms. This song falls under the more melodic and atmospheric umbrella of their sound, with Kensrue’s vocals leading the way. Next up was “The Image of the Invisible,” a classic from one of the greatest post-hardcore albums of the 00s, Vheissu. At this point it became obvious how devoted Thrice’s audience has remained over the years, with nearly the entire venue shouting along with Kensrue as he exclaimed the song’s titular refrain.
That sentiment continued to be apparent when the band played “The Artist in the Ambulance.” Taken from their major-label debut of the same name, it’s one of their most straightforward tracks and an obvious attempt at making some headway in the mainstream. The chugging, palm-muted guitar riffs and clean singing from Kensrue could broadly be considered a “pop-punk” song and marked what appeared to be a substantial turning point for the band. That album would be a turning point — Thrice hasn’t released another album that sounds like The Illusion of Safety — but not the type of change most music fans expected. Instead of trying to become the next post-hardcore band to break through into the mainstream, they instead took a full 180 and shunned commercial viability while fully embracing their love of post-rock and bands like Frodus.
After a few songs, the band members got the entire audience in The Wiltern to sing “Happy Birthday” for Kensrue, who was celebrating his 38th birthday. The band next touched on their The Alchemy Index releases, with Daedalus from, Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth. The song began with an extended instrumental intro, gradually transitioning to louder dynamics as the song progressed. “The Grey” from Palms took on a more alternative rock sound as Kensrue did his best to channel the late Chris Cornell, his thoughtful crooning making just as much of an impact as his bellowing shouting.
If at this point it seemed like the band was going to completely ignore their album Beggars, a record which saw them taking on more influence from the indie rock spectrum, it would be pretty understandable. Then, the next two songs allayed any worries the audience had that the 2009 album would be skipped. First up was “In Exile” followed by the title track “Beggars.” Later, the set would come full circle as The Artist in the Ambulance was revisited with one of the record’s other singles, “Staring at the Sun” followed by “Paper Tigers.” The set concluded with one final track from Palms, “Beyond the Pines.”
Overall, it was yet another strong set from a band that shows no signs of wearing down anytime soon. The new songs stood up to the older tracks and the band played with a vivacity that few groups 10 albums in can muster. However, one couldn’t help but feel disappointed that nothing from their first album Identity Crisis or their breakthrough The Illusion of Safety was performed. Then the encore happened. While Identity Crisis was understandably omitted (the content of that album, while promising, doesn’t stand up to any of their later material) two of the best tracks from The Illusion of Safety finished off the night. First up was “Deadbolt,” arguably one of the genre’s best songs and a masterful display of riffage from guitarist Teppei Teranishi. The night concluded with “To Awake and Avenge the Dead,” yet another chance for the band to show off their instrumental chops, leaving the audience to trickle out of the historic Wiltern theater after total catharsis.
File Photo: Owen Ela