The Thermals stormed into town Friday night hit in the heels of their latest record, Desperate Ground. It’s an impassioned return to the angry days of their most popular album The Body, The Blood, The Machine; the antithesis to their last release Personal Life. I’m a big fan of the new record and looked forward to hearing some of it played live. I was also a bit nervous about the show because I remember seeing them in 2011 and being really let down.
Right from the start I got good vibes from the stage. The first band, Moon King, was an unusual three-piece from Canada. They played a kind of spacey psych-rock with weird folk and pop influences thrown in. It took a little while for their set to really get going, but by the fourth song the crowd was getting into it and they were starting to fire on all cylinders.
After they finished local rockers Bare Mutants plugged in. I saw them open for Smith Westerns at Schubas a long time ago, and I thought they were a little boring. It only took one song to have me all turned around on my impressions of them. Here at Lincoln Hall they were far more interesting and lively. The guitar work by Jered Gummere was especially fine. I don’t remember the band being so large when I saw them before, so perhaps they’ve undergone some changes. I certainly don’t remember Jeannie O’Toole being in the band, but I’m glad she is. Lots of great bands are represented here (Mannequin Men, The Ponys, the 1900′s), but as a whole they manage to be more than the sum of their parts.
At 10:45 The Thermals came out to raucous applause and launched into “Returning To The Fold.” This immediately relieved my apprehensions about the show. When I saw them before the crowd was absolutely dead, and the music felt flat. I put equal blame on the venue and the band-Logan Square Auditorium is a huge open room that allows noise to stay in the air forever. Loud, fast music does not play well there. They also didn’t break into any of “the hits” until late in the show, at which point the crowd erupted and it finally felt like a Thermals show.
The audience at Lincoln Hall never let it get too staid. By song two there was aggressive moshing going on in the middle of the room and by song three Hutch Harris was in the middle of the pit getting up close and personal with some fans. He came back out again later in the show, as did drummer Westin Glass. His quick crowd surfing stunt was definitely a show highlight. The performance Glass put on all night was astounding to watch. He goes all out on every song, leaving a puddle of sweat as a testament to his love for playing live.
As far as setlists go, you’d be hard pressed to find one more pleasing to a fan of The Thermals. It didn’t focus too much on the brand new songs, instead covering the whole of the bands now decade-long career. Everything from their earliest “No Culture Icons” to the fantastic (and even better live) “Sword By My Side,” they really gave a Thermals 101 course. For fans like me that think The Body is one of the greatest albums of all-time, they opened with “Returning To The Fold” and also played “Here’s Your Future,” “St Rosa And The Swallows,” “I Might Need You To Kill,” and “Pillar Of Salt.”
For a little over an hour Harris, Glass, and bassist Kathy Foster put on a tour de force I’ve been dreaming of since I became aware of their music. No one was ready to leave after the one song encore. Foster and Glass were more than happy to high five and shake hands with members of the audience and show their appreciation. I’m happy to say that my faith in the band has been redeemed after the earlier disappointment. I’m already excited to see them the next time they come to town.
When Holdfast disbanded about 18 months ago, I feared the worst. They weren’t the greatest band in the world, but they were good and getting better. Now two separate bands, Lamp and Terriers, I think everyone can agree that we are all better off for the split. Danny Cohen and Easton Gruber started the latter, joined by Connor Boyle (a solo artist as well), Nora Leahy, and Brandon Hunt.
Music has been trickling out from Terriers for a while now. They put out a really good single called “Black Hole” in September and “Waste Time” has been available more than a year now. Though both are strong entries in their catalogue, neither is really a precursor for the new album. Working with producer Dan Duszynski (Gold Motel, Any Kind), Terriers have created an album which is impossible to peg down in one genre and exceeds expectations.
The band deftly mixes Pablo Honey-era Radiohead and John Vanderslice on the opener, “I Don’t Care If The Sun Is Shining.” Noticeable immediately is Cohen’s improved vocals. A good voice in Holdfast and on the earlier singles, he’s come into his own as a singer and only gets better with multiple listens.
“New York,” the lead single off the album, is the most mainstream-radio type song on UAS. It doesn’t have some of the elements that I really like on other songs from the record, but it does appeal to a wide range of listeners. Plus it doesn’t hurt that it’s a really well-written song. I love the line “New York, I was once humbled by your greatness but now enlightened by the lateness in your answers. Baby, I have rid you for the better. For Chicago or whoever I may find.”
Getting as far away from that adult contemporary feel as quickly as possible, the next three songs swing from Elvis Costello folk to Earth Wind & Fire funk. “You Belong To Me” comes as a very pleasant surprise. I definitely didn’t expect such a dance-y, fun track to follow up the ballad “Fall In Love,” but they fit together seamlessly. All players do an amazing job of jukin and jivin through this number, especially Boyle on the drums.
The talent stays front and center on the Todd Rundgren-like “You Belong To Me.” As if demanding to not be forgotten, Nora Leahy takes the spotlight on “Like I Always Do.” She delivers a beautiful vocal on the country-tinged ballad that increases the vulnerability already displayed in Cohen’s trill.
“Probability Theory” closes the record and contains what is probably my favorite lyric: “I wouldn’t call myself charming, I’ve got a lot left to learn. But I’m not the worst on this farm team, and I still get spurned.” It’s a well-constructed tune, but the genius comes right at the end. Like Abbey Road‘s “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” you’ll always remember these final words on Mutual Admiration Society, “I guess I’ll count myself lucky for what little I do comprehend. Keep my chin up and stay plucky, cause I don’t want it to end.”
I think after you hear the album for yourself, you’ll have a similar feeling. But, you’ll have to wait until next Tuesday to do that. Terriers will be playing a record release show next Wednesday, May 22nd, at Schubas in Chicago. They’ll also be coming by Handwritten Recording studio to record a Hasty Revelations session with us, and we couldn’t be more excited.
On May 20th The National will release Trouble Will Find Me, their sixth studio album in twelve years. I’ve heard it, and I find it disappointing. Much like High Violet, they’re moving further from the band I loved on their early albums. It started with Boxer, when they became the critics darling we know them to be today. They still write good songs, but I feel like they’re just repeating themselves now.
So instead of reviewing the new record, which I know everyone is going to pick up regardless of what I say, I figured I’d use today to remind myself how great The National can be. Here is my top ten songs from their career so far.
10. The Perfect Song
9. Secret Meeting
6. Start A War
5. Anna Freud
4. Lucky You
3. Fake Empire
2. Mr. November (Ed. note: This is a video Kari shot when we saw them at First Ave in 2009. The audio isn’t perfect, but the end is worth it)
1. Slipping Husband
As always, feel free to add your own lists or tear mine to shreds in the comments section below.
I don’t have a ton to add about Fort Frances’ live show. After last night’s performance, I believe the seventh time I’ve seen them live, I’m convinced they are one of the best live acts around. Pretty much every show has given a preview of at least one new song that hasn’t been released. They also do a great job of rearranging their material, so it never feels like you’re seeing the same show again. Fresh off the early success of their latest EP, Harbour, the band played like they were happy to be in front of the hometown crowd again, and the audience-most of them three sheets to the wind due to celebrating the Mexican holiday in the traditional way-were in a frenzy for most of the evening.
The music started with The Great American Canyon Band, a fantastic duo who currently reside in Baltimore. I only caught the tail end of their set as I was at work when they went on. I’ve seen them here in Chicago before, though, and they do a great job. You can check out their new EP, Lost At Sea, in all the usual places. I recommend Bandcamp. I had a good talk with Paul Masson after the show, and it sounds like they may be back later this year so keep your eyes peeled.
David McMillin hit the stage with Aaron Kiser and Jeff Piper for what I assumed would be a barrage of songs from the new record and some older stuff sprinkled in. Quite the opposite, Fort Frances opened with a couple songs off their debut LP, The Atlas, before hitting us with “Truths I Used To Know” and my favorite song from Harbour, “Please Don’t Wait Up.” Surprisingly, they didn’t play the single that preceded the record, “City By The Sea.” I respect the decision though.
Since this was a Cinco de Mayo show, the crowd was a mix of folks there to hear some great music and some looking to party (and by party I mean talk about things that happened earlier in the day while sloppily “dancing”). There were two points where everyone in the crowd shut up and focused completely on what was going on in front of them. One was during “Please Don’t Wait Up,” thank goodness. The next was during the band’s famous cover of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime.” The third occurred at the very end of the show, when the three gentlemen made their way to the middle of the floor to play the acoustic tune “The Wetlands.”
Fort Frances are easily one of the best Chicago bands working today, and I think before too long they’ll be known nationally as a critically praised fan favorite headlining festivals. For now, I’m happy to have them here playing at venues like Schubas where I can enjoy their music without having to battle my way through a thousand people. There will be tears when that day comes, but they will be tears of joy. There is no band more deserving of success than these guys. If you haven’t taken the time to listen, you better do it now before they start getting fun.-type radio play and you can’t stand them anymore.
It’s been a while since I really dug into Secret Colours. I’ve heard bits and pieces, but the last time I really paid attention was back in 2010. I covered their release show at Beat Kitchen where they were celebrating the release of their single “Watch The Drone.” The group was fuzzed out and psychedelic for sure. I was standing next to Tommy Evans’ dad for the set and he couldn’t have been more proud.
Since then Secret Colours have toured extensively and released a couple more records. Live, you could tell they knew what they wanted to sound like, but it’s tough for young bands to turn that desired sound into reality. On Peach, the new album coming out at the end of the month, I think they’ve finally captured what they’ve been aiming for. I credit producer Brian Deck and the bands organic evolution for this great leap forward.
Secret Colours is still a trippy psych rock band, but they’re approaching it in new, interesting ways. The fuzzy guitars have given way to a cleaner sound, almost Dark Side Of The Moon-ish in a sense. They seem to be putting more emphasis on creating good songs instead of just making it strange for strange’s sake.
This is greatly illustrated on the song “Blackhole.” It’s a slow burner that builds and builds until a swirling guitar solo hits almost four minutes in. The band shows a great deal of patience and trust in the listeners. In not sure try were mature enough a couple years ago to display that kind of restrain. Peach is filled with great examples of the band growing up and figuring out their strengths.
On “Lust” they go for a bluesy rock sound reminiscent of some of The Monkees’ headier tunes. The bass line is hellacious and really sets a groove. Lay on top of that the echoing vocals and the surgical precision with which the guitar is blended in and you have yourself a really fun late summer night song.
It always makes me happy when I hear Chicago bands making strides toward creating work of the highest caliber. Secret Colours are certainly on their way. Their only listed shows for now are this Saturday, May 4th, at FeelTrip Studios and the record release show June 8th at Empty Bottle-both in Chicago. I’m sure more will be announced closer to the albums release date.