So, let’s get this out of the way right upfront: If you’re in The Thermals and not, say, Neutral Milk Hotel or, I don’t know, The Replacements, it is basically just not ok for you to wait a full 30 minutes after your equipment is fully set up before you finally take the stage. Once the final sound-checks have been done, your water bottles are in place, and your setlists have been taped to whatever you like your setlists to be taped to, you don’t get more than a minute or two before you need to stop doing whatever you’re doing and get yourself on stage. At least not until your shows are selling fast enough that you don’t have to offer 2-for-1 ticket deals a couple days before. Harsh? Maybe, but that shit is infuriating. It’s a blatant show of disrespect toward the audience, a move that, if taken out of the context of a rock show, is straight-up ridiculous: Imagine you’ve made plans to meet a friend at a bar at 10:15. You both show up early, at around 9:50, and your friend is standing uncomfortably outside the bar, just waiting around for you. You drove, though, and you decide to sit in the comfort of your car until the agreed upon meeting time. But no, actually, of course you don’t, because that’s not a nice thing to do to someone.
Anyway, The Thermals eventually graced us with their presence, and my goodness, they really do pack a punch. By now we’re all familiar with what they do best: high-energy, sometimes politically-charged pop-punk that sounds a lot like what one imagines The Mountain Goats would sound like if they played high-energy, politically-charged pop-punk. Tonight’s show isn’t sold out, but the people who are here are fucking loving it.
Or, parts of it at least. Much has been made about the band scaling things back a bit on their most recent effort, Personal Life. Its a less aggressive album than their others, and it’s also less aggressively hooky—less insistent that you pump your fists and sing along. The contrast between new and old is far more distinct in a live setting than it is on record, and the vibe changes considerably when they play new tracks like “Never Listen to Me” and “Only For You.” At one point frontman Hutch Harris said, “Thank you so much, just a couple more new ones,” as if he was apologizing for playing them at all.
And if he is, he’s clearly forgiven. There’s too much good stuff going on for anyone to hold a grudge: They open with “Here’s Your Future” and go right into “I Might Need You to Kill,” the first two tracks on their 2006 breakthrough album, The Body, the Blood, the Machine. We get Now We Can See standouts “We Were Sick,” “When I Died” and “When We Were Alive,” plus a handful from their 2003 debut, More Parts per Million. It’s the songs from The Body, the Blood, the Machine that get the warmest reception: They close the main set with “A Pillar of Salt,” in all it’s playful, hard-hitting glory, and then encore with the rousing, satirical “Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing.”
They’re heading in a new direction, and it’s fine—they’ll just need to find a new way for their new material to have the same impact their earlier material continues to have on every listen, and so far, they’ve missed the mark. They seem to know this, and so does everyone else in attendance. For now, it’s ok. We just pump our fists and sing along, whenever we have the chance.