photos and review by Brian Cullen
Last Friday The Thermals graced a sold-out Neumo’s crowd to an explosive night of incredibly tight-knit-Portlandly-punk-rock. Technically an all-ages show, the typical Sam Beam beard to neon side-cocked hat with bangs ratio was drastically out of whack -- the former basically mailing it on the fandom. Probably a good thing at the end of the day as I had no problem getting a beer (ok, two) upstairs and the kids, well the kids kind of kicked ass.
Also hailing from Portland, Parenthetical Girls and Panther lit the emo fuse (it’s short, duh.) with showmanship and sweat-drenched, string breaking angst. As a performer deciding to come off stage and into the crowd is to walk a fine line between awkwardness and awesomeness -- young kids that haven’t seen much tend to be a touch more receptive than dudes that saw Dinosaur Jr.’s original line up the first time around.
Parenthetical Girls guitarist, singer and overall performer at large Zac Pennington was rocking a sweater with the words “butterflies are free.” Say what you will about that, Zac knew how to work a crowd. Starting the set off from the center of the crowd he moved back and forth from stage to floor to knees to drum kit singing and playing guitar with eyes that said “I’m astro-projecting. I’m not even here. I’m somewhere else.“
Kill Rock Stars label-mates Panther continued to warm up the crowd for Hutch Kathy and Westin. Guitarist and vocalist Charlie Humara pummeled his guitar to the point of breaking several strings within just a few songs. Panther’s somewhat stripped down emotional indie rock reminded me of going to south bay shows years and years (and years) ago. I’m pretty sure there was no such thing as indie rock when I was attending all-ages shows. I think they called it alternative back then. Whatever. Having never seen Panther before, I was pleasantly surprised by their onstage rawness (is that word?). Again, audience interaction was employed: At one point Humara lunged his guitar forward more or less right in front of me (and many others) seemingly attempting to get one or all of us to attack the strings. Pretty great in theory unless you’ve got a giant camera in your hands. I was like “uhm, should I strum it with the 5D? This is sort of an expensive lens and he’s pretty god-damn sweaty.”
(verdict: awesome, with a touch of awkward)
I was really excited to see The Thermals. A longtime fan of Hutch and Kathy’s expansive catalog (Haelah, Urban Legends, AGSFB) I’ve been really psyched to see my old friends up on stage. I was not disappointed. It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen a band play this tightly. The trio played with an intensity that sent the crowd into a rocking frenzy. The entire floor was bobbing up and down to Kathy Foster and Westin Glass’s finally complete, ridiculously cohesive rhythm section. Early in the set I was launched into a modern day mosh-a-thon getting carried across the breadth of the entire stage -- all in the span of just a single verse. Anyone that has heard the The Thermals knows how pervasive the vocals can be. Mr. Harris’s vocal style is the anthemic common denominator to intelligently penned, guitar-centric power melodies. Seeing the three of them wow this young crowd really felt good. It gave me faith in their futures. Through their continued success, The Thermals are the same kids that recorded in their kitchen, gave away CD-R’s and played in back yards on rotten couches. You know when you’re at a sold out show and it’s so hot you’re sweating -- and suddenly a bouncer opens some random side door next to the stage letting in all this fresh cold air? That’s what it felt like to see The Thermals Friday night.