DJ Hostettler

The Thermals @ The Annex, Madison

By - Oct 3rd, 2010 11:51 pm

Photo of the Thermals via MySpace

“This guitar was too sensitive. This isn’t a sensitive show,” said Thermals guitarist Hutch Harris as he switched guitars on stage at the Annex in Madison Saturday night. He’d broken a string, which was apparently the guitar’s fault, as it couldn’t handle his Mighty Rock Power. Kinda funny, since the bulk of the bands’ set pulled from their two most recent releases, Now We Can See and the new Personal Life, both of which represent a considerable mellowing out since the rage of 2006’s awesome The Body, the Blood, the Machine. Perhaps acknowledging this, Harris later conceded that “maybe the show’s a little sensitive. A little.”

Sensitive or no, it was killer. An 18-and-up crowd (bless you, Madison) was all smiles and bouncing as Harris, bassist Kathy Foster and drummer Westin Glass bopped and grinned themselves through a lengthy set that picked gems from all five albums. Glass was particularly hilarious, standing to pump his fists and lead the crowd in handclaps whenever the songs gave him a break. His smirk the entire set seemed to cockily say, “yeah, I’m totally in this awesome band. It’s cool. No big. I’m a pretty big deal.” But make no mistake—the entire band seemed flattered and thrilled by the positive vibes from the audience, which mostly bobbed in place until the band would launch into a smattering of tunes from Machine, at which point the crowd would explode into mosh pits and sweaty rejoicing.

It was pretty obvious from the crowd’s response that Machine still stands as the band’s crowning achievement. Even solid jams like “How We Know” from Fuckin’ A and “It’s Trivia” and “No Culture Icons” from their sparklingly low-fi debut More Parts Per Million took a back seat when Harris would launch into a blistering indie-Ramones rocker like Machine standouts “Here’s Your Future” and the encore of “Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing.” Still, there’s reason for this—while their last two albums have been solid (new tunes “Never Listen to Me” and “Power Lies” were standouts), the 2006 screed against government and religion captures the perfect mix of sarcastic punk bile and sugary indie accessibility. At no point was this more evident than the set closing “A Pillar of Salt;” as they left the stage, all I could think about was how far that song flies above the rest of their considerably packed catalog.

The Thermals for some reason have become obsessed with Furbys on this tour—they’re been imploring their fans to deliver the creepy artificially-intelligent toys to their shows in exchange for potential guest list slotting. When I asked Foster about it before the show, she said it started as a joke, but—as she motioned to their merch person, who was hunched over the table as the Furby whispered into her ear—they’ve become obsessed. So take heed—bring a Furby to a Thermals show, maybe get free admission? I’m not saying it’ll happen, but it can’t hurt to try. Then again, we wouldn’t want to indulge the band’s childlike whimsies too much—god forbid they become too sensitive for their own shows.

Oh, by the way, Cymbals Eat Guitars opened, and I made it two songs before heading away from the stage to chat with Foster and my friend Michael. Yikes, young bands need to dig farther back than Dismemberment Plan and Les Savy Fav for influences—for all their technical acumen and ability to come up with some fairly engaging song parts, they couldn’t seem to piece them together into, I dunno, an actual song. Maybe they should borrow some of the Thermals’ Ramones albums?

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