Last night presented a real opportunity for me to fall in love again… I once called myself a big Thursday fan. I picked up a copy of the band’s debut LP Waiting, and was given Full Collapse by my (amazing) girlfriend at the time shortly thereafter. My love affair was intense, albeit brief. War All The Time was good, but I felt it lacked the magnetism that originally drew me to the band. Since releasing A City By The Light Divided, I’ve become slowly more interested in their happenings. In a similar fashion, I’ve fallen off the Rise Against train of late, taking in a few tracks here and there, but mostly feeling nostalgic about the Revolutions Per Minute era.

I’ve seen each band live a few times since our “falling out”, but not paid them due attention. Last night, I decided, I would leave myself at each band’s mercy.

Offering my judgment and reason a chance to rest before Thursday’s direct support set was Sage Francis, a lone conscious hip hop MC. It takes a lot of charisma and energy for one man to fill a stage the size of that Rise Against would soon pulverize, and so credit is indeed due to the lyricist. He was funny, entertaining, and an extremely talented MC. I was unfamiliar with every song he performed, and yet still had my arms waving and feet tapping to his beats while he spewed lyrics on topics from the late Johnny Cash and social injustice to not being able to get it up. This guy is a hell of an entertainer, and added a nice new dimension to this show that really foiled well with the other two acts.

Thursday took the stage, ripping through “At This Velocity” at, well, an impressive velocity. Geoff Rickly has always been a passionate frontman, and in the past, I’ve let his energy onstage compensate for his slightly sub-standard vocal performance; however, this fine night in Hamilton, I got to have my cake and eat it to. Rickly was all over the stage with a persona bigger than his physical stature would lead you to assume, and hit most of his notes perfectly. I was blown away, grinning from ear to ear while trying to capture his antics through my lens.

The band sounded great as a unit, although it was Rickly and Tom Keeley that drew most of my attention with their passionate respective deliveries. Some mid-set technical difficulties forced second guitarist Steve Pedulla to perform the majority of “Understanding In A Car Crash” on his own, and to the credit of his playing along with the band’s onstage energy, I barely missed Keeley at all. The band played the first track from their upcoming Epitaph debut, dubbed “Resuscitation of a Dead Man,” as well as favourites like “Signals Over The Air” and set closer “Jet Black New Year,” which sealed the deal for me. I’m once again a big Thursday fan. If you think of it, check out their split with Envy on Temporary Residence. It’s fucking brilliant.

Set List:

“At This Velocity”
“Division St.”
“The Other Side of the Crash”
“Understanding In A Car Crash”
“Dead Songs”
“Resuscitation of a Dead Man” (new)
“Signals Over The Air”
“For the Workforce, Drowning”
“As He Climbed the Dark Mountain”
“Jet Black New Year”

Rise Against, the arena punk rock (?) juggernaut, took the stage after a surprisingly short break, kicking off with “Drones” while the crowd screamed in anticipation and bodies came flying to the front of the pit. I was shortly thereafter torn between actually shooting photos, like I was supposed to, and slamming my hand on the stage to the rhythm of “Give It All” and “State of the Union.” In the end, I opted to do a lot of both.

I’ll say I’m not a big fan of the latest Rise release. Appeal To Reason, to a further degree than its two preceding kin, found the band taking an alternative direction to the sound I fell for on Revolutions Per Minute and certain tracks on the next two records. That said, I know it’s a really solid rock record and can understand why people dig it. I don’t fault the band at all for what they’ve done with their later releases – they’re damn good at what they do. Tonight’s show was bittersweet, as the stage show was close to flawless. Rise Against is still a live band, and tracks I initially passed over from Appeal To Reason even earned a bit more merit in my book being sung from the stage.

The band got through up-tempo renditions of quite a few offerings from The Sufferer and The Witness, and even “Like The Angel” and Heaven Knows” from RPM which both sounded dynamite. Bassist Joe Principe is one of the finer rhythmic anchors in punk, combining a strong backbone to the performance while still seemingly enjoying every minute of his time onstage. This was my first time catching guitarist Zach Blair in action with the band, and he fit right in, jumping around the stage and doing his fair share of backup vocals.

I had to leave a bit early, as the show started about 30 minutes later than expected, so I can’t tell you much about the last 20 minutes of their set, but I’d wager Tim came out with the acoustic to play “Hero of War” and “Swing Life Away,” one of which I enjoy and one of which I really can’t stand (you can guess which), before being joined by the band for a couple of oldies (“Dancing For Rain?”). Regardless, Rise Again proved once again they’re an extremely competent live band who’ve earned their stripes sweating it out onstage. I just wish what they were playing came more from pre-2004 releases rather than what they’ve been doing lately, but since I got to do it earlier, I’ll give up the chance to eat the cake.

In summation, my love for Thursday was restored, and my respect for Rise Against was reassured. While I likely won’t seek out the opportunity to catch the latter in the near future (at least not in such a large venue), I certainly wouldn’t kick and scream if I had to snap some more pictures and headband to some old favourites. As for Thursday, we’ll see you on the Common Existence tour.

Check out the song “Savior”.