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Music Monday – Thrice

01/17/2011

There were three main concerts I went to see this year – Thrice, Arcade Fire, and Muse. I’ve already talked about Arcade Fire, and I’m sure Muse will receive a very important post in the future, but today I want to talk about Thrice.

I’ve actually seen Thrice twice now, the first time being in 2006 when they opened for Brand New along with MeWithoutYou. Phenomenal show. I went with two friends of mine from high school, and while they were down on the floor getting silly in the mosh pit, I was eye level with the stage, watching and listening to the band play and enjoying every minute of it. The second time, this past summer, was at a much smaller venue, Station 4 in St. Paul, Minnesota. This was my second show at Station 4 (I caught the tail end of Fort Minor before one of my friends’ local band was on), and it’s easily one of my least favorite venues in the Twin Cities. It is incredibly small, long and narrow, with huge cement columns the whole length of the room, with one of the pillars literally being two feet from the vocalist’s face. If it’s not the worse venue in the Twin Cities, it’s tied for worst.

My friend Joe introduced me to Thrice, or rather, by leaving his tv on as the music video for “Image of the Invisible” played. I was hooked; he then told me that that wasn’t one of their songs that he liked, and gave me a copy of their cds. Over time, my appreciation for Thrice grew. They are that unique rock band that incorporates the best parts of screamo music, hardcore rock, while still crafting complex songs with emotional, spiritually and theology charged lyrics. If U2 is the best (Christian) rock band on the planet, Thrice is the best (Christian) hard rock band.

I was a big fan of Vhessiu, and utterly adored all 4 parts of The Alchemy Index (each part was released on a separate album of six songs a piece, and each followed a different musical style, so while “Water” was electronic based, “Earth” was more acoustic). Alchemy Index Volume 2: Water was my soundtrack for a lot of one of my years living on campus at the University of Minnesota; that album was my wakeup call each day.

Thrice’s most recent album, Beggars, came at a time in my life when I was feeling uncertain about my future and frankly scared about my past. Midway through 2009 my closest friend died, followed shortly by having knee surgery and discovering that I had the life-long disability known as gout, and then early in the fall semester of school I radically switched majors (for the better). 2009 was a big year, and while most of it was marked by the spiritual highs and lows of U2’s No Line on the Horizon (a topic worthy of it’s own blog post), Thrice’s Beggars came out at that perfect time when I needed some understanding and hope to carry on with life.

Thrice is not, per se, a “Christian band”; they are a rock band comprised of mostly Christian members who profess a deep faith in God grounded in solid theological conviction. Heck, lead singer Dustin Kensrue wrote an endorsement for Mark Driscoll’s Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Calvinist to the core, probably. The lyricist at least knows his stuff. And Beggars as an album was arguably the richest piece of theology published in 2009. I was challenged, I was convicted, but more importantly I began to understand and know grace in a radically different way than I ever had before. The concert in 2010 was the culmination of over a year of feelings and growth, let loose in one explosive instance of guitars, bass, drums, and a symphony of voices praising God in unison, whether they realized it or not.

Consider this from the song “The Weight”:

And come what may, I won’t abandon you or leave you behind,
Because love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning for a moment.
Come what may, I will be standing right here by your side,
I won’t run away, though the storm’s getting worse and there’s no end in sight.

How often in rock music will you hear a singer declaring absolute fidelity between two parties, whether husband and wife or God and man? That verse is pure Bible, pure Holy Spirit, in a way that many won’t recognize. “The Weight” challenges me in a way that few things do. Obviously the title of the song refers to the weight of a ring, a wedding ring or engagement ring. It causes me to stop and think of whether or not I am worthy of even offering that weight, let alone am I able to bear it. The Christian answer is of course “only by the grace of God”, and I agree…but in this environment of simplistic theology and Christianity, where everyone grew up in Christianity and expects Christian standards to be the (totally obtainable on our own merit) norm, then that answer is not good enough for many. And I just don’t know. All I know is that that is the goal and standard to which I strive to attain.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking, and yet most glorious song on “Beggars” is the title song.

All you big shots that swagger and stride with conceit,
Did you devise how your frame would be formed?
If you’d be raised in a palace, or live out in the streets,
Did you choose the place or the hour you’d be born?
Tell me what can you claim? Not a thing – not your name!
Tell me if you can recall just one thing,
That’s not a gift in this life?

Can you hear what’s been said?
Can you see now that everything’s grace after all?
If there’s one thing I know in this life: we are beggars all.

I can’t really explain it any more than that. It’s all grace. All of it. Which is a tough thing for an ex-Arminian, works sanctification person to accept. But it’s something I know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be absolutely, utterly, and terrifyingly true. But it is something that is not very popular, especially to those who grew up in the church. We second or third generation Christians feel an entitlement that first generation Christians don’t. “I kept myself pure, I deserve for God to give me a pure spouse!” We are missing the whole point of grace, and the whole point that we are all sinners. We don’t deserve nothing. Grace, and mercy, are all that we have, all that we can cling to, and all that we are hopeful for.

I understand many don’t like that. But to me…that’s the greastest blessing and joy imaginable. To quote a line from U2’s No Line on the Horizon…

“Now I can breathe…”

Here is the setlist Thrice played June 11, 2010 at Station 4 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Main Set:
All The World Is Mad
The Weight
The Artist In The Ambulance
Of Dust And Nations
The Earth Will Shake
Firebreather
The Messenger
In Exile
Doublespeak
Circles
A Song For Milly Michaelson
Hold Fast Hope
Cold Cash And Colder Hearts
Red Sky
Image Of The Invisible
To Awake And Avenge The Dead

Encore:

Stand and Feel Your Worth
Child of Dust
Beggars

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