Saturday, November 3, 2007

the thermals @ warsaw, 11/1/07

by their own count, this was the thermals' sixth show in new york this year, and my first ever chance to see them. i, along with a lot of other people, might hate on pitchfork, but i'm mammoth enough to admit that the only reason i ever would've heard of the thermals is because the body, the blood, the machine was rated so highly by the site. it took me a little while to understand why, because all i heard at first was rather simple punk melodies and well-enunciated lyrics about christofascism. though i eventually became deeply immersed in the thermals' music, especially the guitar solo in "here's your future," the only solo on the album, hutch harris's talk-sung fables about a christian totalitarianism remain to be the body, the blood, the machine's most compelling feature. despite their staggering number of new york appearances this year ("more than portland," [the thermals' hometown] according to harris), it seemed that many in the crowd were in the same boat as i - first time thermals viewing. my expectations were average - i didn't think the thermals were going to move worlds, but i wanted to check them out and do some dancing (since halloween was a bust for moves).

it was a loud one at warsaw last night, and an exhausting one to boot. covered in sweat, my feet, so willing to jump and bounce a few minutes earlier, felt like lead as i staggered back to the L. i stared into space, zombie-like, yawned frequently, and reflected on the great night of blistering noise and excellent pit dancing i had just participated in.

up until the show, i had no idea who was performing with the thermals; warsaw's website only obstinately said "special guests," so it wasn't until i scoped out the merch table that i knew what to expect. first openers reporter also hail from portland, or. , and play a brand of lo-fi post-punk punk similar to the thermals, so they made sense as an opener. though i only caught a few songs from their set, reporter is straightforward, almost to the point of being predictable, though very listenable as well. vocal duties were split between the female bassist and male guitarist, though the award for reporter's best stage presence goes to their drummer, whose abundant energy and passion was far more interesting than reporter's songs. also, i was very impressed that he managed to keep his glasses on.

reporter - "blaze"

i discovered during the set break that these are powers were the next opener, a discovery that quite pleased me. these are powers are a band i've heard a lot of blog press about, but never looked into them, and i was excited to get a taste here.

these are powers are loud. really loud. they've christened themselves heralds of "ghost punk," which i know about as much about as you. i think their music occasionally had some dancey elements, and frontlady anna barie was certainly jumping around like we were supposed to be dancing, or at least moving, but i, along with everyone else, spent most of the set staring with not a little bewilderment at the stage, before inevitably feeling their persistent rhythms. driven by pat noecker's heavily fuzzed-out bass and bill salas's bizarre percussion (including a kit, a drum machine, and a suitcase possibly filled with xylophones), these are powers' sound is greater than the sum of its parts, thanks to noecker's army of pedals. whether songs included barie on guitar or not, they were often powerful and pulsating with energy, dense cacophonies that included a lot more joy than similar efforts by their noise-rock peers. these are powers were excited about what they were playing, and their enthusiasm was massively engaging. acolytes at the altar of noise, these are powers nonetheless had a humorous side, joking about being from "brookcago" and "pierogies filled with love" (warsaw, nestled in polish greenpoint and an extension of the polish national home, serves pierogies at all of their shows, giving the venue its slogan, "where pierogies meet punk"). for the last song in their set, barie handed out noisemakers to the front row, and then jumped into the crowd with the mic, twitching and shaking among us, possessed by some barely satiated demon of noise. though probably not something i could stand in my headphones for longer than, say, 90 seconds, these are powers are definitely enjoyable live, when you let the floor-shaking sound seize you.

these are powers - "little sisters of beijing"
"you come with nothing"

hutch harris, the thermals' frontman, managed to pen an entire album about the omnipresent danger of america becoming a christofascist empire, yet looks like the all-american boy. clean-cut, wholesome, dressed in a tucked-in flannel shirt and spotless cowboy hat, harris looked more like an assistant at a southern men's clothes emporium than an erstwhile socio-religious critic. his starched look was indicative of the thermals' stage show, which was very plain, especially after these are powers' exuberance. harris and bassist kathy foster had some head-to-head rock moments, but, by and large, the thermals just played their music, and let us excite ourselves.

by the end of opening song "returning to the fold," a dance pit had formed in front of the stage. it would not dissipate until the thermals encored with a note-for-note cover of built to spill's "big dipper," a song not known for its pumping-up ability. in between the two, as the thermals played insouciantly, churning through nearly all of the body, the blood, the machine, the energy in the pit built to a climax, until warsaw's over-excited security guards tried to yank dancers out. the thermals didn't add or subtract anything from their live performance, and it was the crowd that made the show good, recklessly smashing into each other and dancing maniacally. the thermals played songs from more parts per million and fuckin a, though it was their newer songs that earned the greatest applause. they ended with a crushing "a pillar of salt," encored with three covers, and let us go, sweaty and exhausted, into the night.

the thermals - "here's your future (live on kexp)"

buy thermals stuff at sub pop.

"an ear for baby"

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