I have mentioned that I'm a **revisionist**, and I produce evidence of that nearly every conversation I have concerning music & movies. I have proclaimed many a band the next greatest thing ever, and am known to crown a new greatest song of all time every month or so. I'll get back to this.
On Sunday, March 4th, I went into NYC, to the Bowery Ballroom, to see The Thermals, a punkish trio (quartet, on stage) from the Pacific Northwest (Portland, I think). Now, unfortunately, I must say I went alone. This is very significant. I don't like going to shows alone, and almost never have, because my A#1 rule... not rule, um, kinda like a personal guideline in life is that music (or anything) is better when shared with friends (or at least vaguely interested acquaintances). I guess you could make the argument that being alone increases the likelihood of meeting new people, and that may be the point you'll get out of this post at the end, but whatever, I'll continue.
I went to the show because (a) The Thermals recently-released third album, The Body, The Blood, The Machine (on SubPop) had been on repeat on all my various media playing devices - enough to be one of my Top 5 Albums of 2006 (you know that list I STILL haven't posted, that you are dying to read, and that I probably won't post for another month or so just to seem insouciant & punk), (b) their single from said album, "A Pillar Of Salt" was my pick for Best Single of 2006 (ditto on the lateness for that list, too.); the song and video are brilliant, necessitating better words than I can muster off the top of my head right now, and without a doubt allowed me to utter such **revisionist-friendly** statements like "That song could be 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' for this new generation" or at the very least, "That video is everything that's good about Rock & Roll and being young". Oh, and (c) The Big Sleep were opening, and they kick ass live.
In case any super-Thermals fans are reading (probably by search-engine accident, because I'm pretty sure I haven't reached proper blog stardom yet), I will admit I entered the show under-informed. I really liked the record, but had only really obsessively memorized the lyrics to "Pillar" and "Here's Your Future", and I kinda knew "How We Know" from their last album cuz the video was played on Fuse like three times. Apparently, I missed a memo, because to the sell out crowd of 800 people, The Thermals are the **best band ever** of right now. The band came out with humble thank you's for the surprising sell out, and proceded to more than earn their money.
Frontman Hutch Harris appeared to already be sweating during the hellos, looking at once energized and majestically wrecked, almost the spitting image of Tom Verlaine, 30 years ago, on the cover of Television's masterpiece, Marquee Moon. He knew that he had penned an album's worth of lyrics probing the uncertainty and insecurity that comes with being spiritual and religious in a world where priests do wildly inappropriate things, and where the Christian Right looks bent on world domination - so he was going to make us all believers. Bassist Kathy Foster, as always, was ready to play Bonnie to Harris' Clyde, her head full of curls forever bouncing like a bunch of tiny bungy-jumpers; and whether she knew it or not, you could tell from the young girls in the crowd that she was their new role model.
Almost immediately, I knew I was seeing something special - this wasn't a show, it was an event, maybe even a coming out party. As the band tore through "Future", "I Might Need You To Kill" and "An Ear For Baby" (the opening salvo from the new album), the place lit up with excitement. The normally jaded NYC crowd had uncrossed their arms, and were moving to the music. There was jumping, pogoing, even a bit of moshing, but with absolutely no aggression. The entire ballroom was a steambath of boundless joy. The Thermals came to rock, and their fans came to love them for it. And it wasn't just for the songs from the new album (which, being Pitchfork-approved, accounted for the people at the back of the room, still waiting on that memo), the fans came to hear all the songs, from all three albums, and they came prepared, knowing all the words. For every line that Harris delivered with dignity, there was an anthemic chorus that was shouted back by tired lungs and serated vocal chords. **I thought, 'This must be what it felt like to see The Clash in 1977'.**
After blasting through all ten songs from the new album, and probably 13 or 14 more from the previous discs, all in an hour, The Thermals left the stage as grateful for the experience as they were thankful for the opportunity. And I didn't feel like I missed out on sharing the show with someone, because I shared it with everyone. I want to say to you now, hey, dig this band. Get to this now, because this band is very special, and I don't ever want to have to be revisionist about this. Look around and see The Strokes and Wilco and The White Stripes, and then Death Cab and The Shins, and it's kinda feeling like 1990 again...the year before 'the year that punk broke.' I have hope that way more than 800 people in a club are gonna know The Thermals soon enough.
And, just in case you think I'm exaggerating, here's a little clip of the show I was at, from the song "Back To The Sea". Note how loud the crowd is...
This is an iconic video that pretty much justifies 25 years of ADD-inducing MTV jump-cut editting. Here's the clip for the Raz-approved Best Single of 2006:
The Thermals' "A Pillar Of Salt"
- The Thermals on Myspace
- Buy The Thermals on Insound
- The Body, The Blood, The Machine review on Pitchforkmedia
Here's some extra stuff for your viewing pleasure
(this is what YouTube is good for)
"Here's Your Future"
"St. Rosa & The Swallows"
"How We Know" video
"A Stare Like Yours"
"No Culture Icons" video (lo-fi, so you have to turn it up)