The Thermals @ Troubadour, 5/27/09
The Thermals fit into this bizarre nebulous world that exists between rock and punk. They're a little too brash and uncut for rock and a little too soft for punk . I mean they've got a swan on their drum set for Pete's sake. (On their website their music is described as post-pop-punk, but God knows what that even means.) I would describe it as punk that people can get excited about without fear of a mosh pit or being clocked on the back of the head by a crowd surfer's shoe. Or alternatively, punk that parents would approve of. Sure their lyrics are dark and nihilistic , but hot dang those hooks are catchy.
Hailing from Portland, the Thermals took the stage at the Troubadour before sold out adoring crowd. Sporting a beaming new drummer, Westin Glass, who looked more excited to be there than anyone else, Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster got ready to rock everyone's socks off. After splitting ways with Sub Pop, the trio recorded they're latest album, Now We Can See themselves before putting it out on local Portland label, Kill Rock Stars. The new disk is slightly poppier than their previous three, but is cloaked in contrast to their really thought provoking themes of what life is like after death.
Most of the songs on the album are being sung by a protagonist reflecting on a their previous life's experiences whether uplifting ("When I Was Afraid") or pessimistic ("I Called Out Your Name") or just matter of fact ("You Will Dissolve"). The best perhaps being the self realizing tune "Liquid In, Liquid Out" which is sure to become a classic drinking song featuring the chorus "Liquid in, liquid out, That's what my life was all about. That's what my life was all about. Was all about."
The show did not go smoothly despite their best intentions. The overenthusiastic Glass managed to break three snare drums over the course of the one hour set (borrowing and consequently destroying the snares of the opening bands) but did so with an exuberance that was charming rather than maddening. Foster spent most of the time jumping up and down which contrasted with Harris' more serious lyrical performance.
At the half hour mark, it became clear what was nagging me about their songs. Catchy, yes, but they're all the freaking same. Are they fun? Heck yes, but the repetition takes away the sparkle after about forty minutes. Then something new and audacious is called for, even if it's not as good. Something to break up the set. Play something slow and mournful. Or something with a ridiculous theme, like why hippos can't fly or ants can't dance. Or add some keyboards and a harmonica. Change it up a little, just for a song or two, and then we can go back to bouncing up and down and reflecting on the mysteries of the afterlife.