SAYREVILLE — For all that has changed since the band called Thursday, New Jersey’s beloved emo-thrashers, last performed in Sayreville, the group’s reunion felt eerily familiar.
The outfit’s impassioned captain Geoff Rickly seemed to have stepped from a time warp and onto the Starland Ballroom stage Thursday night, as if he hadn’t fronted two bands and managed a record label during the group’s five-year hiatus. His slender frame, center-part haircut and gap-toothed grins were all identical to his days spent flailing in New Brunswick basements and scrawling post-hardcore’s prologue nearly 20 years ago.
The show’s scheduling was a mirror image, too, reviving the band’s past tradition to play the Central Jersey venue between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
That was the plan all along, Rickly told the sold-out audience, to have the band’s first concert anywhere since 2011 be a hometown show. But summer festivals in Atlanta and Denver came calling first, and the band broke its silence earlier this year.
Regardless, Rickly and his buddies — the original six-piece, emo-punk maelstrom — seemed elated to return, and the packed New Jersey crowd cared little about exclusivity in this propulsive homecoming, the first of back-to-back nights at Starland.
The band leaned heavily on its two most lauded albums, 2003’s dystopian major-label debut “War All The Time,” and the seminal fan-worshiped breakthrough, 2001’s “Full Collapse.” And the hits rained early; Thursday opened with “For the Workforce, Drowning” and “Cross Out The Eyes” — two frenetic sing-alongs — and engaged the shrieking, chanting audience immediately. Rickly, 37, was clearly well-rested, his high wails ringing urgent and whole.
Despite the gloom of Thursday’s discography, the band wasn’t melancholy — even lyrics speaking death and regret couldn’t mask members’ excitement to play for friends and family again.
Though Rickly, a figure in the mid-2000s black-fingernail emo boom, did drip some darkness into the pool. Before “Paris In Flames,” he explained that when the song was written 15 years ago, it was almost cliche to sing about racism or sexism, that everyone “seemed to be on the same page.”
“But it turns out it’s time to burn all that down again,” he said with a sigh, alluding to Donald Trump’s “grab her” comments, and the uptick in high-profile hate crimes in 2016.
The singer revisited the year’s ugliness later, this time with a bit the genre’s patented nihilism.
“Tomorrow, we will start again with hope, but for tonight, no hope. Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s the end,” Rickly decreed, before spurring the crowd to chant a pseudo ball-drop countdown from 10, and then blasting the song “Jet Black New Year” and its apt lyric: “Swear this year will be better than the last.”
Still, the show found spots for encouragement; Rickly dedicated the “War” single “Signals Over the Air” to women in the audience with “heads held high” in spite of the sexism, and for the hopeful “Standing on the Edge of Summer” he reminded “how beautiful it is to be alive.”
Behind Rickly’s shouts and helicoptering mic tricks, the band was dialed in, as graying guitarist Steve Pedulla riffed away and keyboardist Andrew Everding delivered razored backing screams.
Thursday has made no promises, Thursday night or elsewhere, about the what these reunion shows mean for the band’s future — “since we got back together, or whatever you want to call it” is as much as Rickly addressed it this night — but it’s obvious the guys are having fun again.
And for New Jersey, that’s important. In terms of impact and musicianship, Thursday ranks alongside My Chemical Romance and The Gaslight Anthem as one of the state’s most significant acts of the 21st Century. So even if this rekindling only brings about more holiday shows, a tradition Rickly said he’d like to reinstate, that is exciting.
But a night of ear-to-ear smiles and fire eyes in the singer suggested something more may be on the way.
THE SET LIST
“For the Workforce, Drowning”
“Cross Out the Eyes”
“The Other Side of the Crash/Over and Out (Of Control)”