Thick as Thieves steal away after eight loud years
The band ends on a high note with a brand new album
Somewhere along the line in their eight-year career, the encyclopedic rock quartet Thick as Thieves began to develop some aggressive coping mechanisms for the long haul. You would never accuse them of a lackadaisical set. Live shows tended to be riddled with shattered equipment and on-stage collisions, while the music served up constantly shifting dynamics that struck out sound guys left and right.
And then there were the bad shows.
“We had a rule - if the club sucks, we steal something from it,’’ says guitarist Aaron Benson. Nothing big - a mike stand here, a rug there, the occasional ottoman. In all, it’s not surprising behavior for a band with “Thieves’’ right there in its name.
And yet, when all is said and done, the band leaves behind a stack of beautiful, intricately arranged rock records with almost literary aspirations. This week, they unveil their latest, a tingly collection of starry-night revelations and knotty aggressions called “Practice Resurrection Like the Fox Makes Tracks’’ (the title a nod to Southern poet/novelist Wendell Berry) at a release party in Cambridge Saturday at the Middle East. The show will also serve as the apparent end of the line for this local outfit as they prepare to send Benson off to his new home in Switzerland this summer. Gathered over drinks at a bar in Cambridge last week, the quartet recounted the years of a topsy-turvy existence.
“I’d preface all this by saying basically everything we’ve done is just shoveling a few more spoonfuls onto the grave of rock ’n’ roll,’’ says guitarist and singer Tyler Littwin. “We established our own sound, did it on our own terms, and carried on a sort of tradition. I would never tell anyone we changed the way music was made, but there was a certain adventure in it.’’
Littwin, a Western Massachusetts native, met Benson and drummer Mike Cotter when they moved here from the Midwest for school. Benson was studying music engineering at Berklee and they hit the ground running with their debut, the self-released “We Planted Driftwood and Nothing Changed.’’ It was a lush, full album with the swirling debris of post-hardcore and indie-pop energy, and it plotted a wide-ranging trajectory the band followed through a handful more recordings to close out the decade.
Current bassist Kellen Kleinfelter came aboard in time for the band’s manic 2009 “Rx’’ EP, the work that has come closest to capturing the group’s slash-and-burn live approach. Since then, they have been perfecting the new record. “Resurrection’’ is a mural-size collage of destructive ragers, foot-lit lounge ballads, withdrawn acoustic plucking, and even a few reflective electronic beats. Pianos, organs, and banjos step out from the wings for cameo appearances while Littwin bounces from rock howls to choirboy croons. The band had “masterpiece’’ on their mind.
“We had such big gaps in working on the album that there were constantly new perspectives every time we came back to it,’’ says Benson. As the pieces finally came together, Littwin pieced the whole thing into a narrative arc.
“The first four songs ended up being about youthful indiscretions and being out and about and wreaking havoc on the world,’’ he says. “Then the last part is about death, dying, and the afterlife. I sent the idea out and the rest of the band got it in an e-mail.’’ He shrugs off the band’s sheepish response. “They were all annoyed at how long the first paragraph was and said, ‘Fine.’ ’’
It’s a high note to go out on and, as Benson says of his own favorite records, should offer new secrets every time people listen. For a band that has made an art form of onstage self-destruction - from dismembered keyboards to near-misses with projectile bass guitars - this final act at the Middle East should be epic. If there’s one thing an observer couldn’t rightly accuse the band of, it would be slacking off.
“There’s a Henry Rollins quote,’’ says Kleinfelter. “He doesn’t understand people who don’t go out and play every note like it’s their last note and give it everything [they] have - that’s never been an issue with these guys. There’s no faking.’’
Boston’s venerable Rock ’N’ Roll Rumble - reinstated last year after a couple years’ drought - begins its two-week reign over the scene Sunday as the first of six nights of preliminaries begins at T.T. the Bear’s. The event pits 24 bands from all over the musical (and Massachusetts) map in a melee that goes back 33 years. . . . Local supergroup Future Carnivores (stuffed with members from bands like Guillermo Sexo, Beautiful Weekend, and MEandJOANCOLLINS) welcome their debut album into the world this Saturday at Tiger Mountain in Cambridge amid a shower of sparkling David Bowie guitars and a full battery of percussion. . . . That same night, Boston psych-folk outfit Mount Peru celebrates the release of their EP, “Your Kingdom’s Come Undone,’’ at the Middle East Upstairs with a crooked front porch-full of Boston’s best new rootsy groups, like the New Highway Hymnal, Great Elk, and Chris North. . . . Up the road apiece in Salem on Saturday, fans of all things experimental are in store for a blowout show of noise, collage, field recordings, improv, projections, and more at Sonorium VI. The event, which has gone down every few months since 2010, brings together a smattering of regional artists like Boston’s High Aura’d and Gang Clan Mafia and Great Barrington’s Northern Machine. That’s at the Griffen Theatre at 8 p.m.