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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Thermals Deal More in Heartache Than Revolution at the Independent

Posted By on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 8:18 AM

The Thermals
White Fang
November 16, 2010
@ The Independent

Better than: Wearing actual thermals this time of year.

Veiny-necked, deceptively boyish Thermals frontman Hutch Harris has the type of declarative vocal command that makes crowds nod together like a congregation that's just starting to believe. In The Thermals' case last night, it just so happened that those heads were already bobbing to convincing pop-punk maneuvers. Or at least, that was mostly the case. This barre-chord-wielding power trio can raise fists without problem when it wants to, but one thing we weren't sure of Monday night at The Independent was whether the band really cares for those trifling, righteous matters anymore.

If its new material is any indication, Portland's critically adored punkers are growing up and settling down. Or maybe they're simply above the lofty political and social statements they championed on the 2006 breakthrough album The Body, The Blood, The Machine.


Where the Thermals once shouted enlightened ideas and biblical themes, the band now focuses on matters of the heart and the complexities of relationships. Their pace, too, goes heavy on the pop and light on the punk, especially on new songs "Never Listen to Me" and "Only For You," from the band's latest album, Personal Life (the title of which probably should have tipped us off). Chords saunter rather than lunge, and solos groove moodily. It was all well received last night, but this is a curious direction for a band with a soothsaying lyricist and grandiose ideas about noncomformity and dissent in its toolbox.

We tried to understand the band a bit better during the cut "No Culture Icons," which seemed a loose description of the Thermals aesthetic thanks to the refrain: "hardly art, hardly garbage." At least they're comfortable enough to say it, and if harmless is how they want to rock, then let the brows drop and lay anchor.

The departure from loftier places wouldn't be so obvious if it weren't for the profundity of songs like "Returning to the Fold" and "Pillar of Salt," which rock with vision and sonic urgency. "I Might Need You To Kill," another song played from The Body, still has airs of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, a powerful reminder of the holds dictators can wield and the mistresses of corruption the world over. "They can tell me what to read / They can tell me what to eat / They can beat me and send me the bill / But they tell me what to feel?" We might need them to play that one again.

Why stand onstage when you can lie on your back and swim around like a dead fish? That was just one of many questions posed by brat-punkers White Fang, which gave in to gravity and other compelling sonic forces of their own devising last night. Band members treated an enabling crowd to interpretive dance of the seizuring sort, the singer's long hair a sea of indifference, and his long-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way to the top, like a sarcastic compromise to a parent. (And a shark tooth necklace? Sure, why not?). These dudes wear their garage cred on their sleeves and aren't shy about discussing what goes on in said garage (hint: pot and beer, which should come as a surprise to nobody). "In Portland it rains a lot, and we like to skate, so that sucks .... So, you get high instead. This song is called 'Duh.' " Things got slightly more cerebral on the next number, which our band leader introduced as such: "This song's about being drunk." But it seemed about a bit more thanks to the guitarist's finger tapping delights, which worked swimmingly. The lead singer was again a dead fish onstage and doing headstands, but White Fang's drummer percussed with poetic punk fills and built layers of beats with just two hands. Who knows, perhaps a single was born. Songs didn't last too long, and the band's finish was abrupt and unpretentious. But when the set came to an end, our man was as polite as could be, which is so punk rock in 2010.


Critic's Notebook

Overheard in the crowd: After a plea for a place to stay from the White Fang singer, a guy whispers to a girl, and a girl responds: "not at MY house..." Also overheard from a girl: "That (Thermals) bassist (Kathy Foster) is sooo cute," which is a scientifically demonstrated fact.

Banter of the night: From Hutch Harris: "What happened with the weed? You guys didn't legalize it? We can still smoke it right?"

Thermals setlist

I Don't Believe You
Nothing You Can't Learn to Accept (?)
Returning to the Fold
St. Rosa and the Swallows
We Were Sick
Never Listen to Me
Not Like Any Other Feeling
No Culture Icons
How We Know
I Called Out Your Name
Here's Your Future
I Might Need You to Kill
Back to Gray
Only For You
Your Love Is So Strong
When I Was Afraid
Now We Can See
Pillar of Salt

It's Trivia

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