Concert Review: The Thermals, May 3, Horseshoe Tavern

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God, I love The Thermals. What’s more, I love their Twitter feed. Twitter gives following a band on tour a whole new meaning, and The Thermals’ feed is one of the most entertaining around. Who can forget the epic tweet “But really this is the NOGL tour 09. NO ONE GETS LAID“? Or the early morning hours of May 1, when they tweeted a legendary 79 times between 1:22 and 3:53 AM?

Their tweet above is correct: the so-called “Legendary” Horseshoe Tavern is not the most glamourous of venues. On the other hand, The Thermals are not the most glamourous of bands. And that’s ok. Despite the heat that had frontman Hutch Harris sweating through his shirt, the Thermals pretty much killed it with an hour of their energetic indie rock goodness.

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Touring in support of their fourth studio album, Now We Can See, The Thermals are a power trio from Portland made up of core members Harris, vocals and lead guitar, and Kathy Foster, bass and occasional backing vocals, along with new touring drummer Westin Glass. Interesting fact: they actually recorded their last two albums as a duo, with Foster also taking care of the drumming in studio. Yes, they are talented people.

The Thermals brought two bands from what I hear is a pretty thriving Portland music scene to open for them: Point Juncture, WA and Shaky Hands. We missed the former, but did get free parking right across the street from the venue (right behind the band’s touring van!) as our reward for showing up deliberately late. Would we still have gotten free parking if we’d come to see Point Juncture, WA? We’ll never know…

Our other reward for showing up when we did was the unexpectedly decent music of Shaky Hands. A band I knew absolutely nothing about going in, I had anticipated a very loud, very basic set, notable more for its volume than its musical quality to get the crowd sufficiently “pumped up.” What Shaky Hands delivered was 45 minutes of indie rock owing as much to 60’s radio pop and country as The Pixies or Fugazi. It was a nice surprise, and even though by the end of the set all their songs were starting to sound pretty similar and the band made few attempts to really engage or energize the crowd, Shaky Hands satisfied.

I mentioned The Thermals have four albums; I only really know two of them, 2004’s Fuckin’ A and 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine. They started strong with “Returning to the Fold” off Body, and I ended up suitably impressed with the band’s new material and more than happy with the number of older tunes they performed. Particular memorable were the new songs “I Let It Go” and “I Called Out Your Name,” and “St. Rosa and the Swallows” and “Here’s Your Future,” two of my personal favourites also off Body. With nearly all their songs clocking in at three minutes or less, the band was able to fit nearly 20 of them into their hour long set, and I didn’t notice they didn’t play “Remember Today,” the tune I was listening to in the car on the drive over, until I got home. Ah well, you can’t get everything you want.

Once again, however, I felt let down by a Toronto crowd and their tepid reaction to a great show. It appeared to be an even split; a quarter of the crowd was going nuts, a quarter was pretty into it, a quarter was mildly intrigued by some commotion near the front of the room, and the rest thought their damn phones were more interesting than the bands. I know tickets were cheap, but really, why did you pay to get in if you don’t care enough to at least move around a little?

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The Thermals did look a little tired. Harris barely addressed the crowd at all except for the occasional “thanks,” and with Foster clearly a little uncomfortable talking to the audience it resulted in a few awkward dead air moments between songs. After both the band’s regular set and encore, Harris practically ran off stage without even glancing at the cheering fans, though Foster and Glass lingered for high-fives and big grins. Whether it was the band’s exhausting early morning Twitter fest of a few days before or the fact that they’d played 11 shows in the previous 12 days, travelling from Boise, Idaho to Toronto during that stretch, The Thermals looked like a band eager for a day off. Nice to see from the tweet above that they got one, even if it was only for one day before another five straight days of shows.

Even tired, though, these guys rocked the house. They certainly earned their rest day. See them, preferably at a show after they’ve had some time off, as I’ve heard that when well-rested, Harris and Foster like to jump off things and generally go crazy. Whatever they do next, I hope they keep Twittering about it.

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Posted on by Brian in Concerts

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