The Thermals, with White Fang and the Unnatural Helpers
Friday, Jan. 21
The Thermals knew what to give the wall-to-wall>"/>
The Thermals, with White Fang and the Unnatural Helpers Friday, Jan. 21 Neumos
Friday, Jan. 21
The Thermals knew what to give the wall-to-wall pumping fists at Neumos. Their latest album, Personal Life, may be their slickest and poppiest yet. But the much-loved Portland punk-pop (not pop-punk! there's a difference!) trio bolted out of the gate with a clutch of their fastest, shoutiest songs Friday night. By the time they got to "It's Trivia" from their 2003 debut More Parts Per Million, the floorboards swayed under the delirious mass pogoing.
But for all that frenzy, the Thermals are at their best when they're at their catchiest. The set hit its stride with the colossal hooks of "We Were Sick" and "I Let It Go," both from 2009's Now We Can See. Singer/guitarist Hutch Harris' voice got hoarse during these songs, and would continue to crack at times for the remaining two-thirds of the set. But Harris just shrugged it off with a joke: "I'm going through puberty up here. Can you tell? It's, like, my third puberty at this point. Weird hair. Boners. You know."
Songs like "Here's Your Future," "I Might Need You to Kill," and "I Don't Believe You" work as genuine anthems, but not because their lyrics offer simplistic Sham 69-style rallying points. While Harris frequently writes in the collective "we," his songs are more about questions than answers. It's the sheer power of the melodies, the intensity of the performances, and the relentless drive of bassist Kathy Foster and drummer Westin Glass that get the fists pumping, turning these intimate explorations of doubt into communal outbursts of ragged joy.
That was most obvious with the climactic "Now We Can See," as hundreds of hands clapped along for the intro, and hundreds of voices kept the vocal "oh-way-ohoh-ohoh" vocal hook going even when the band didn't. A clearly planned but well-earned encore went way back for "Everything Thermals," a steamroller from their debut 2003 EP No Culture Icons, and ended the show for good with "Our Trip," the opening track from their 2004 album Fuckin' A. By this point Harris could barely croak out the "oh"s on the chorus. But like Berry Gordy making everybody on Motown sing in a key higher than they could comfortably handle, the vocal strain just made the songs feel more wild-eyed and unstoppable.
A few minutes of enthusiastic high-fiving with the front row of the crowd, and they were gone. Whew. Especially after energetic but unmemorable sets by openers White Fang and the Unnatural Helpers, the Thermals proved that, when played with charisma and passion and humility and, yes, those hooks again, the dusty skeleton of punk rock can always come back to life.