After attending a show early last week that was said to be sold out on the Neumo’s website, I expected roughly the same volume of people to be at the The Thermals concert last Friday night. Through its sheer energy, the crowd felt as if it were double the “sold out” I experienced last week, making it both an energetic and awe-inspiring atmosphere and a frustrating one for people who, like myself, braved the lines to get beer.
Portland band White Fang opened early in the night with a set of entertaining but sloppy high-school garage rock. Certainly fun to watch, it was apparent from the beginning that these self-titled “stoned spastics” were in it purely for themselves.
There was a vividly discernible difference between the opener and the second band on the bill, Seattle band Unnatural Helpers. With a slightly more professional appearance and a far more polished sound, Unnatural Helpers took the stage with a healthy dosage of banter, dismissing the overbearing “fog” that had enveloped Neumo’s as ridiculous. Curly-haired drummer and lead singer Dean Whitmore led the four-piece through a set of high-energy emotional grunge rock, frantic at times and yet more polished than other bands in the same genre tend to aim for. Most songs in the set were short and topped off with a screeching couple seconds of feedback that left (some of) the rowdy crowd screaming for “more feedback.”
Kudos to whoever put this tour together — rarely do you get three such disparate bands that all overlap just slightly enough to avoid the feeling that you saw the same band do three sets or are left wondering how these bands would ever play the same venue on the same night. Portland’s The Thermals took the stage amidst a strobe of camera flashes, opening with the fittingly titled “End to Begin” from 2004’s Fuckin A. Producing an extremely tight set of power-chord rock, The Thermals exuded confidence throughout the whole set. Undeniably catchy songs were sewn together by great between-song transitions where the trio didn’t do much talking but seemed to be floating on top of clouds, smiling and getting on with the next song.
Anyone who has seen The Thermals before knows that they bring a whole lot of energy to a live show – I expected this after seeing hundreds of people jumping to The Thermals’ set at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2009. Yet, bassist Kathy Foster couldn’t seem to get over the praise they justifiably received after every song. The best-received songs were “Here’s Your Future” and “A Pillar of Salt,” both off of arguably their best album, 2007’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine. However, adventurous (and ridiculously catchy) guitar solos and less prophetic evangelical-type lyrics in tracks such as “Never Listen To Me” and “Not Like Any Other Feeling” made these tracks off of their new album, Personal Feeling, the highlights of the night.