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.