The Thermals at 7th Street Entry, 5/14/13

The Thermals at 7th Street Entry, 5/14/13
Photo by Mark Kartarik

The Thermals with Strange Relations 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Thermals are indie rock's consummate underdogs. They've never been as popular as they should be. Their albums are perennially underrated and it's more vexing with each passing year. The workman-like, scrappy punk rock the band peddles in is always enjoyable and they're prone to creating concept albums (the new one is about a "lone rogue in the night") that tell their stories in two-minute bursts of lean, athletic, hook-filled noise with just enough flourish attached to them to make each stand on their own and stand out at the front of the pack. All of this was on display Tuesday at the 7th Street Entry, where they offered up a veritable clinic on how put on a rock show.

Opening with "Faces Stay With Me" from their new Desperate Ground, the night was off the a grand start. Lead singer/guitarist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster were jumping back and forth on stage, absolutely assaulting their instruments, drummer Westin Glass proved to be no slouch, as well, propping up the remainder of the rhythm section with a precise ferocity that did not wane until the last notes of the encore.

From there, the set was moved along quickly, frenetically, with little talk from the stage by the band aside from "Hi guys!" from Harris at one point early on, which earned a smattering of cheers and a drawn-out "Yeah!" from Foster to fill a bit of time as Harris tuned his guitar after a powerful rendition of "Returning to the Fold" from 2006's The Body, the Blood, the Machine, which found Harris jumping off the stage during the song's last passage, an action that somehow lit a fuse in the crowd. Up to that point, the crowd had been tentative and a bit lethargic, possibly due to the 95-degree heat that arose late in the afternoon in Minneapolis. The simple move fully engaged the audience for the rest of the set, however. "Born to Kill" followed and by this time the Entry was an oven, almost everyone having cracked a sweat; the band literally dripping on stage.

The crowd suddenly whipped into a mosh pit/shoving match during "Pillar of Salt," with many people trying to avoid it by leaning as far forward onto the Entry's notoriously low stage as they could. This led to the night's only glitch, but it was an unfortunate one: several of the monitors at he front of the stage got pushed out of position and Harris' guitar came unplugged in the process, robbing the crowd of what is inarguably one of the best riffs in their entire catalog and robbing the song of much of its power. The band simply continued the song all the way through in an "as is" fashion and Harris plugged back in and the band got back to business in short order, but it was a stinging disappointment in an otherwise magnificent set.

"The Sunset" from their new album began the down slope of the set, the crowd once again swirling into a mosh pit, this time with a show goer crowd-surfing for just a few seconds before dropping onto to his feet once again. "Now We Can See," the title track to their 2009 album followed and the set ended with "You Will Find Me," both Harris and Foster creating a deafening blast of feedback into their amps before exiting the stage as Glass bolted from behind his kit and dove into the audience, offering high-fives to those who would take them. (There were, for the record, no refusals.)   After just a few short minutes, the band returned to the stage looking slightly drier (they surely must have toweled off a bit in the interim) than they had when they exited and began with "No Culture Icons" from their 2003 debut, More Parts per Million, the crowd singing along to every word. They ended with "Overgrown, Overblown!" and just as quickly as they as swept in, firing off two-minute blasts of eardrum-shattering punk, the club returned to the tranquil place it had been just a few hours earlier as everyone scattered into warm night. Summer was finally here and by a fortuitous, improbable turn of events, a band named the Thermals kicked it off for Minneapolis.

Critic's Bias: Though I haven't been as loyal a listener of late, the Thermals' 2004 offering Fuckin' A and 2006's The Body, the Blood, the Machine rank among my favorites of the last decade. It was good to see them again -- it had been far too long.

The Crowd: Skewed a bit young but all ready to have a good time without getting too rowdy (i.e. nobody was starting fights, etc.) it was absolutely perfect.

Overheard in the Crowd: "I met Mark Dayton once, he gave me one of these [forearm handshake motion.] I have literally rubbed elbows with Mark Dayton."

Notebook Dump: The feedback created by a guitar is a magical sound. Created by a bass it is somehow sickening, but in the best way possible.

Random Detail: The Thermals posted this photo with this caption: "'re beautiful baby! Mwah! Minnesota...great job legalizing gay marriage!"

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