My wrist really hurts right now. And it’s making a clicking noise when I bend it forward. Not great when you make your living sitting at a computer, but worth it. The other day, I was climbing over a guy I’d never met and we were both screaming along to a song that has been there for me for 18 years. A song about getting older. I thought I understood it 18 years ago, and I did in the way that you understand getting old when you can still remember playing in the dirt. But I couldn’t buy scratch tickets or cigarettes when I first heard it.
At 17, I was prone to being emotional and moody and not doing a great job of hiding it. I was mostly a good kid, but I spent a lot of time insulating myself from people by doing things like storming off and writing bad poetry. I was also that kid that would go completely ballistic at shows. I’d leave venues sweaty and bruised and sometimes bloody. I still have two partially fake teeth to show for it. I was obsessed with the hardcore and post-hardcore of the late 90s and early 2000s. For a time, none more so than Thursday.
When Thursday announced that they were doing a farewell tour playing two of my favorite albums of my late teens—Full Collapse and War All the Time—in their entireties on consecutive nights, I bought tickets the morning they went on sale, but I didn’t process the moment completely. It was obviously just something I had to do. My friend was hungover on my couch. We had seen Cursive the night before and were buying tickets to see Thursday. I’d seen both American Nightmare and Converge in the last few months. It felt like 2003, right down to the taste of stale cigarettes and cheap whiskey in my mouth. Back then, Thursday was a part of my existence. In 2019? It was just going to be cool to see them again.
Bingeing the albums a few weeks before the shows, I still remembered every word, riff, beat, and fill. I had flashbacks to buying War All the Time in a sketchy record shop in Naples with clothes dangling from lines above me. I was studying abroad the semester it came out. Then me, a couple weeks later, 19 and alone at 3 a.m., sitting in the snow, fresh off of a mugging attempt in Krakow. My neck bleeding where I had been choked and the hood ripped off my hoodie, the fabric meekly falling down my shoulder, but my headphones still blasting “Division St.”
Listening at 35 on my way to work every morning and remembering who I was then, I had to turn off my headphones and take an extra lap around the block to collect myself before going into my office a few times. The euphoria of being in the pit with my friends, those late-teen break ups that made life seem impossible, going to college, the first flirtations with depression, being a kid and not knowing who I was, but still wild eyed and excited. Full Collapse is me at 17, screaming along, driving alone at night in an ’88 Mercury Cougar with a missing headlight because I don’t want to go home yet. War All the Time is me at 19 staring out of train windows between Worcester and Boston, MA, trying to make sense of why my home felt so different every time I went back.
For some songs, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard them. It’s hard to follow a band for 20 years. It’s hard to follow anything for 20 years. At least closely. I can barely tell you what I’ve been up to for large chunks of that time. We lose things that were an important part of ourselves as we grow older. Or we just move on because something different excites us. Or things just change, even when we don’t want them to. For me, I pulled everything in. After being told I needed to keep myself together a few too many times by people close to me, I did that and then kind of just kept going. I went from being way too emotional to forgetting how to express myself.
Partially because of this, my interest fell off a bit after Full Collapse and War All the Time. I listened to every album, but they didn’t affect me the way those two did. I think it had more to do with me being performatively put together for parts of my twenties than the quality of the newer albums. It’s hard to get excited about emotional music when you’re spending a lot of energy trying not be emotional. But Full Collapse and War All the Time are a part of me. Without them I’d be a different person. At times, I’d go months without listening to either, but whenever a moment that would get a bullet point or timeline entry in my life story happened, Thursday is one of the places I’d turn.
When my wife left me a few years ago, we had just returned from vacation and had a rental car. I dropped her off at work and drove the car downtown to Avis or Budget or one of those places. Emotional memories are supposedly stronger, but I really don’t remember. Being freshly confronted with divorce, taking the subway home seemed like an ordeal and Full Collapse was the album I put on when I hit the sidewalk outside of the Prudential Center garage to begin my four and a half mile walk home. It was automatic. I don’t think I’d listened to it all the way through for close to a year at that point. Same thing when my father’s bouts with addiction finally drove a wedge between us, or years ago when my own scared me enough to take a big step back. The most cathartic moments in my life have always had Thursday as part of the soundtrack, even when they weren’t in my current rotation.
A couple years later and a few weeks before the farewell shows, I dug out a box that had some articles I’d written for my high school newspaper in them. I found one that I wrote reviewing a show on February 23, 2002. Thursday opened for Piebald at the Worcester Palladium. I called that show “an absolute frenzy” and “blistering.” And while we all may have slowed down just a little bit, Thursday shows in 2019 resemble Thursday shows in 2002.
Back then, it seemed like Thursday came around every few months, and always, as my old review states, “nearly tore the club in two.” The shows in Boston, their third-to-last stop, might not have quite risen to that level of aggression, but, if anything, the band’s technical chops have improved over the years, something singer Geoff Rickly mentioned during the second night’s set. Rickly himself sounded fantastic, angelic in some moments and furious in others. The rest of the band were as intense as ever: welling up, churning, and exploding with precision. Bodies slammed into, and climbed over, each other during both sets, but people were also helped up off the ground the second they hit it and strangers embraced each other and screamed along to the lyrics. They were Thursday shows: beautiful and messy and raging and hopeful. It was a part of me I’d lost touch with.
Thursday may have been about a moment in some respects, but there’s something timeless about them that allowed these shows to feel like seeing a band at their peak rather than one wrapping things up. The mix of a heavier, rawer, and more explosive sound than many of the emo bands they’d end up associated with, and darker and more socially-aware lyrics than their contemporaries still works very well with a few years of added maturity. Tracks about what capitalism has done to a generation of people (“For the Workforce Drowning”), LGBT rights (“Paris in Flames”), and the massacre of indigenous peoples (“Autobiography of a Nation”) stand out as being particularly relevant today, but almost all of the songs interweave personal turmoil with issues like gender role insecurities, mental health, substance abuse, the deaths of loved ones, and misogyny (something woefully missing from many of their peers).
This differentiates Thursday, but it has also given them a unique staying power. The band always seemed to be music for people who were a little bit broken, but still cared deeply about the world, even at their angriest. The personal struggles are discussed within the context of something bigger than any individual person. That’s why they’ve aged so well. That’s why rooms full of people spent the last few months screaming along to every lyric just as passionately as they did 15 or 20 years ago. How strongly the emotion of these albums hit me is something I’ve spent the last few years trying to find in myself again, or more accurately, it’s something I’ve been trying to reincorporate into whatever slightly more adjusted version of myself exists now. They are a way for me to communicate with my past self.
As the set for the second night came to a close, the band was finishing the last song from War All the Time, “Tomorrow I’ll Be You,”and the crowd sang the lyrics, “We are cured. We are cured. We are cured,” in unison. We weren’t really. It’s an impossible ideal, but acknowledging how tough and unfair things can be, and yelling out a statement of purpose to overcome that and move forward was as cathartic at 35 as it was at 19. For many of us, no other band has given us so much strength to do that.