Geoff Rickly walked to McCarren Park from his apartment to close out Northside Festival 2017 on Sunday. Rickly, the lead singer of post-hardcore band Thursday, has lived in Greenpoint for years, and he took the opening minutes of Thursday’s set to gush about his neighborhood and praise the way it embraces diversity. He also took some time to celebrate the diversity of the Northside lineup, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to play the same stage as Kamasi Washington and Miguel. Two large banners reading “Refugees Welcome Here” and “Protect Immigrant Communities” flanked the signature Thursday dove logo decorating the stage. The band managed to conclude Northside on a heartfelt note that was political but positive. Also, they rocked their asses off.
Thursday headlined a strong, consistent Sunday lineup of punk and emo. Tony Molina opened things up after covering Dinosaur Jr.’s classic You’re Living All Over Me at Rough Trade the night before. The prolific punk legend Jeff Rosenstock delivered a fiery, energetic set along with someone DIY wisdom: “nothing is truly free.” Rosenstock’s set mostly pulled from his excellent 2016 record Worry., though his old hit “Nausea” and new single “Dramamine” were the standout moments.
The Hotelier were third up, and played a set with an energy that differed from the rest of the bill. These guys are one the finest rock bands in business today—SPIN just called their 2014 opus Home, Like Noplace Is There the greatest emo revival record ever. They opened with some highlights from Home, Like Noplace, including “Your Deep Rest,” a powerful track about the suicide of a friend. In an awkward if understandable moment, lead singer took a moment like Rosenstock to address the ubiquity of free stuff in McCarren, from CityMD hand sanitizer to Clif bars. “We’re a business. We’re trying to build relationships,” he said. Pause for effect, then: “Tidal.” The set picked up for the back half when the band kicked into “Among the Wildflowers,” and though the vibe was different, it was enthralling nonetheless.
Make no mistake: it was a PUP crowd on Sunday. You could spot their merch throughout the audience all day. Whether you know PUP as one of the most exciting rock acts out of Toronto in years, or just that band with video with the dog and the kid from Stranger Things, there’s no denying that they put on a badass show. With a solid reserve of festival-ready bangers after only two albums, PUP tore through their hits “Sleep in the Heat,” “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” and “DVP.” Rosenstock came back on stage to shout through the chorus of “Reservoir,” and “Family Patterns” turned into one of the biggest anthems of the festival.
PUP were also the first to acknowledge what everyone was already thinking: this lineup was excellent. A rare example of five acts who like each other’s music and make sense placed on the same bill; if you liked any one of these five performers, you were all but guaranteed to like the other four. PUP’s lead singer Stefan Babcock put it well: “This is some real fucking bucket list shit.” Twenty minutes later, you could catch him stanning backstage for Thursday.
Considered individually, PUP may have given the best performance on Sunday, but it was Thursday that brought it all together. Just beginning their careers as a legacy act, they were surrounded in McCarren by fans old and new. It’s appropriate that the two bands preceding them, Hotelier and PUP, are clear descendants of their music. Thursday reiterated Babcock’s sentiments about the lineup, acknowledging how rare it is for a band to find itself in such good company at a festival—“Jeff Rosenstock… That last record just won’t quit!” Rickly actually tried to release some of Hotelier’s music a few years back before unfortunate circumstances intervened.
Even though he was playing next to his musical progeny, Rickly kept expressing surprise that people were still interested in his music. “We wrote this seventeen years ago” was a frequent song introduction. But if anything, Thursday’s music has only gotten better with age. Rickly’s vocal chops have aged well, and guitarist Tom Keeley is a talented and essential anchor for the band’s live performance. Thursday’s fans, meanwhile, have retained their fervor. The band obliged them and delivered the hits: “For the Workforce Drowning,” “Cross Out the Eyes,” and “Counting 5-4-3-2-1” all held up well a decade later. They closed their main set with “Understanding in a Car Crash” and played “War All the Time” in the encore. Though some of the crowd began to drift towards the food trucks and the exits during the last show of the day, a core audience clung to the stage and screamed every word. Thursday walked the thin tightrope of serving the base and winning a new audience.
Some blinked when Northside’s Sunday lineup was announced—“Seems like you’ll be on emo duty,” a friend quipped to me. But the entire day, with particular regard to Thursday’s set, was a testament to the potential of emotional punk music (or whatever diplomatic epithet you prefer) to be inclusive. Sunday was a surprisingly accessible show and a strong cap to a festival with an eclectic collection of headliners. Will Northside apply the same kind of daily genre-focus to its lineup next here? You’ll want to find out.
Photos by Zane Roessell