One could argue that the only thing the band Thursday hasn’t done well in its 25-year career is break up.
Formed in the fertile basement-show scene of ’90s New Brunswick, Thursday returns to Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall for the second of two shows on Aug. 25, following a postponement due to illness. (The band performed a sold-out show there on July 9.)
Fronted by charismatic vocalist Geoff Rickly, Thursday rose to the forefront of the early ’00s emo scene, part of a New Jersey renaissance that included My Chemical Romance, The Early November and Saves the Day.
Formed in 1997, the band originally consisted of Rickly, guitarists Tom Keeley and Bill Henderson, bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule. (Henderson was replaced by Steve Pedulla in 2000.) The band played its first show in Rickly’s New Brunswick basement on a bill with Midtown, Saves the Day and Poison the Well.
After releasing albums on the tiny NJ-based indie Eyeball Records and then Chicago’s Victory Records, the band signed to Island Records for its third full-length, War All the Time, which reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200, manifesting a generation’s reaction to the 9/11 attack and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thursday would release six albums in all, but it wasn’t a smooth ride. Contentious relationships with both Victory and Island, coupled with internal frictions, led the group to go on hiatus in 2011 and then formally announce its dissolution in 2013.
But as often happens, it didn’t stick. The band reunited in 2016 and performed into 2019, culminating with a trumpeted “farewell show” at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn … and then just kept playing whenever circumstances and opportunities allowed. Now the band is back to touring full-time, selling out venues and seemingly more popular than ever.
For Rickly, it’s been both a blessing … and a bit of an embarrassment. “Originally, we intended the reunion to only be a temporary thing, and I convinced some of the band that we should at least wait till our 20th anniversary and do a whole bunch of stuff around that, do full-album plays and all this kind of stuff,” he said. “And so, a few years ago, we did that. And then we thought, okay, this 20th anniversary has lasted for two years through our 21st anniversary, maybe it’s a good time to stop now.” That was when the group announced its farewell show at Saint Vitus.
But the best laid plans … “And that’s when our friends in My Chemical Romance called us up and said, ‘You can’t play your last shows because we’re getting back together and you have to play with us,’ ” Ricky said. “So we did and then when we played with them, they were like, ‘Don’t be stupid, people love you and there’s a whole generation just discovering your band, and all the music has aged really well. Don’t stop playing now. There’s no reason you have to stop.’ ”
Rickly admitted he felt guilty about announcing a finale and then reneging on it, but friends pointed out all the other bands who announced retirements and then returned to the road. “So I thought, ‘All right, they’re right, we’ll just pretend we didn’t say it was our last show,’ ” he said.
You might think that a 2022 Thursday show would largely consist of grizzled 40-somethings strapping on their wallet chains and digging out their band hoodies for a nostalgic boys’ night out, but Rickly said the audiences have been surprisingly diverse.
“I’d say it’s about 50/50 right now between old fans and new, young fans, but I feel like there’s a missing middle ground,” he said. “You know, there’s not a lot of 29-year-olds.”
Like many musicians who came of age before the dawn of the Internet, Rickly marvels at how his band’s music has become so accessible. “It’s funny,” he said. “When we started the band … not to get off on this tangent too much, but I remember doing basement shows, and I would go to Kinko’s and make the flyers. That’s how you did it. And then one day I had a roommate who would say, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna post it on this listserve, that’s where people find out about shows.’ And I was like, ‘On the computer, really?’ ”
With Thursday back full-time, fans naturally want to know if new music will be coming. Not yet, said Rickly.
“While we’ve talked a lot about it, we haven’t done anything about it,” he said. “We’ve jammed and tried to write new things, but we’ve been so busy with all the touring and stuff that not much has happened. When we’re not on tour, there’s a lot of dads in the band now with other responsibilities. So it just doesn’t happen like it used to.
“I can’t believe how much we’re touring this year. We already did two months and now we’re about to do three months. And it would have been more except I broke my ankle in there and needed some recovery time, or else I’m sure our manager would have found other places for us to go. It’s amazing how active we are right now. And the fact that half our crowd are people who were born since our biggest record came out … that’s just a strange feeling.”
One of the things that set Thursday apart from its peers was Rickly’s kamikaze performances: He would wring every iota of energy and emotion out of himself and finish every set exhausted. Now, back on the road full-time, Rickly admits he’s had to temper that a bit.
“That’s how you end up breaking your ankle falling off the stage,” he joked. “So yeah, I remember that I would sweat so much and be so hot that there’d be steam coming off my body when I got off the stage. When I went backstage, there were so many people at the height of our career, I would just have to put a towel over my head and pretend not to be there so I could recover.”
Back in the day, Rickly screamed his way through a set. “These days, I try and balance it a little more where I actually try and save enough energy to sing the songs in a fashion that’s at least somewhat musical and like the record in some way,” he said. “I pour myself into it a little more emotionally and a little bit less physically, because I am a little older. I still like to feel completely spent when I leave this stage. It’s just less of physically being spent and more of just that I put my whole heart into it.”
One thing that hasn’t changed has been the audience’s love of singing along to every song, something that Rickly said never gets old.
“That is still a really beautiful, cathartic thing, and I’ve started to think of live shows in a different way,” said. “People always asked me, ‘Don’t you get tired of singing the same song?,’ but I really don’t. Because I think of live music almost as a ritual. And the more ritualized it is, where everybody knows every word, the easier it is for everybody to get lost inside of the music and have it actually perform a cathartic, collective experience together. And I’ve realized that I just really love that.”
Thursday performs at White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, Aug. 25, with Boy Sets Fire and Hundreds of AU opening. Visit whiteeaglehalljc.com.
For more on the band, visit thursday.net.
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