The Portland power-punk trio visited St. Paul’s Turf Club Tuesday night, bringing along the sugary melodies of this year’s We Disappear (and a special surprise) for just the second show of their latest tour.
The recent craze of musicians playing their most popular albums in full is a double-edged sword. It’s the stuff of concert promoters’ dreams and a kick for fans to see their favorite deep cuts done live. But it also removes that precious “what’s coming next?” spontaneity from shows, and often represents an artist admitting defeat and resorting to nostalgia for a continued paycheck.
When a band tears through an entire fan-favorite record completely unannounced, though? There can’t be too many more things more thrilling than that. Not only did the Thermals play 2006’s politically charged The Body, The Blood, The Machine in its entirety at the 350-capacity club, they also aired all but one song (closer “Years in a Day”) from the Chris Walla-produced We Disappear.
Over the course of the 90-minute set, singer/guitarist Hutch Harris, bassist Kathy Foster, and drummer Westin Glass (rounded out live by the addition of guitarist Jessica Boudreaux, frontwoman of openers Summer Cannibals), seamlessly alternated their attention between the two records.
That’s a feat that shouldn’t be as easy as the Thermals made it seem, given the lyrical and musical contrast between the angry, apocalyptic tones of their decade-old classic and the relatively shimmery, inward-looking new effort.
After downing shots of something brown from the Turf Club bar, the group kicked off with the energetic one-two punch of We Disappear’s “Into the Code” and “My Heart Went Cold” before segueing into the first three numbers from The Body.
In what may have been a statement against the playlist-ification of this millennium's music libraries, both LPs were performed sequentially (albeit in chunks), save for the latter’s mosh pit-inducing “A Pillar of Salt” and “Returning to the Fold” being held for the encore.
Boudreaux doesn’t appear on any of the Thermals’ recorded works, but she made a big difference in translating them to the stage Tuesday. For one, she nailed the solos on tracks like the rarely played epic “Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing” and the brand-new “If We Don’t Die Today.”
Her presence also inspires Harris to work the audience more — at times he abandoned his axe and jumped into the crowd (during “The Sunset”) and at others acted out lyrics and flailed his arms like Oregon’s answer to Craig Finn (“Hey You”) — something he’s not able to do when handling all the guitar parts.
Just as they do on record, the band’s rock-solid rhythm section shone throughout. Co-founder Foster’s fuzzy solo on “I Hold the Sound” and vicious low-end on “St. Rosa and the Swallows” were highlights of the night, while Glass’s drumming on “Back to the Sea” and the instrumental section of “Nothing” powered those cuts tremendously.
Understandably, the focus on the new album and the one that’s celebrating its 10th anniversary left little room for the Thermals’ five other LPs. “Born to Kill” and “The Sunset” from 2013’s Desperate Ground were included in the setlist, while “No Culture Icons” and “Now We Can See” were the lone representatives of the rest of their catalog.
The bouncy “Now We Can See” and its easy-to-sing chorus inspired one of the night’s most enthusiastic reactions from the audience, having assumed a new meaning after the band performed it for a crowd of 20,000 at a Bernie Sanders rally in March (no surprise, considering that The Body seems to presage what many think the world would become if Donald Trump were elected president).
Taking cues from their 2016 candidate of choice, each member of the Thermals stuck around onstage until they’d shaken or slapped hands with everyone who wanted a piece of them. The White House might be a stretch for an indie rock band, but a few hundred Twin Citians would now surely vote for a Harris-Foster-Glass-Boudreaux ticket in 2020.
Critic’s bias: Considerable. I’ve been a big fan of the Thermals ever since discovering them in 2010, mere weeks after I should’ve seen them at the Triple Rock. I thought the 2013 7th St. Entry gig was enjoyable even though it focused too little on my favorite material of theirs, but Tuesday’s show was one of the best I’ve seen all year.
The crowd: Hesitant to enter each other’s personal space until the last song of the encore, when a full-on mosh pit broke out to “A Pillar of Salt” (it’s a shame it didn’t start sooner). Strong enough to hold drummer Westin Glass when he crowd-surfed, but not so for the guy in a black hoodie, who was standing upright within a second of jumping into the crowd.
Random notebook dump: And this apparently happened!
standing at the ATM at our show last night, guy took out $60 handed it to me + said "I listen to u on Spotify" so catch me at the ATM 2nite
Into the Code
My Heart Went Cold
Here’s Your Future
I Might Need You to Kill
An Ear for Baby
If We Don’t Die Today
Born to Kill
The Great Dying
In Every Way
St. Rosa and the Swallows
Back to the Sea
Now We Can See
Thinking of You
Always Never Be
Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing
I Hold the Sound
No Culture Icons
Returning to the Fold
A Pillar of Salt