What keeps the live music experience exciting is that, despite the huge differences between crowds, music styles, and venues, sometimes it’s great to hit a show and get EXACTLY what you wanted.
On this evening, I headed off to the Hi-Dive to hear Portland, Oregon’s Thermals plays some no-holds-barred rock music (post-pop-punk, as their label Sub Pop says) with no apologies.
And that’s exactly what I got.
I wouldn’t list The Thermals as the subtlest band, and the live show proves that fact even more. For just over an hour, with no encores, singer and songwriter Hutch Harris and his three band members blasted out power chords and pro-left wing lyrics all tied up into some of the catchiest punk anthems around today.
About half of the setlist was dedicated to their fantastic third album, The Body, The Blood, The Machine. The Thermals opened up with the first three tunes off of it, immediately drawing the crowd in letting them know this would be a high-octane set with no frills.
The biggest change in the band from the first two records has been the increasing lyrical skills of Harris. While he still mines the old standbys of relationships and human nature, the new album expands into dissertations on Christianity and the duality of trying to balance religious belief versus living in our current society and facing all of its evils. The Thermals apply this theme to the frustration and deadlock of our current political climate and become the rare punk band you may want to listen to repeatedly for more than the music.
The most interesting thing about The Thermals is how out-of-step with the rock music world they seem to be. While so many bands in the last five years have looked back to the late 1970’s/early 1980’s post-punk explosion for inspiration, The Thermals look to the not-as-nostalgic mid-1990’s lo-fi indie rock renaissance.
Taking cues from luminaries such as Guided By Voices and Sebadoh, The Thermals know their way around a good, simple melody and the exact moment to roll into a killer chorus. Even more importantly, they understand the medium and know when enough is enough. When Harris shouts “Here’s Your Future” in the opener, he may very well be telling the truth about his band.
Rolling through the entirety of The Body, The Blood, The Machine as well as select cuts from their backcatalogue, this show didn’t let up for a second. No encore needed.
Sometimes it’s cool to just have some fun, and The Thermals provide that, with some political sloganeering tossed in for good measure.