Photo James BunoanThe Thermals
Thursday, June 26
Listen: when kids in Orange County–fated only for a life of either sedation or self-immolation–go to a show with homemade spraypainted T-shirts to see a band that never went to high school with a single person here, and they know all the words and they dance without anybody whining between songs about how people should come closer to the stage and dance, and best of all, their homemade spray-painted shirts have words you most definitely cannot use if Mom is driving you to the show ("GO THERMAL OR GO FUCK YOURSELF"), then you know there is hope for this place for at least a few more days, and that the Thermals could be huge, if they wanted to.
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We saw the Thermals play cleanup as the very last band on the very last night of South by Southwest–when the flacks and hacks are so pissed, hungover and jaded you could crank up the Leave Home Ramones in front of them and get nothing but pity claps and ice rattles–and they sandblasted 10 years of twentysomething lizard skin off every warm body in the room (with the exception of the girls from Electrocute–nothing can save them). And now we saw them play four songs tonight and loved them like we were 15 again, again. Your older sister hears the Thermals and thinks Gordon Gano with a distortion pedal flipped all the way across; your older brother thinks Gordon Gano copping D. Boon (Mom thinks the Mekons' "Where Were You?" but moms are so out of touch, aren't they?); Chain's sound guy pegs it: "Wipers sound," he says, a rhythm section that'll cut glass (well, punch through it) and a guitarist/singer so wired and inspired that you would never believe he's older than you, even if you're so young your mom really did drive you to the show. This time, that guitarist is named Hutch.
When we heard our first Thermals song ever, we thought it was from 1978–they felt that fresh, that determined, that pushy, that untutored, that accidental. They record on a pile of old car radios and they exclusively use flea market-found answering-machine cassettes–it sounds like Hutch yelling at you through a hair dryer through a megaphone, and then the drums start–and you'll understand when you see them that tape just doesn't come wide enough for this band. Even the lyrics won't fit: "Every sun you never saw/Every sun you soaked in/Naked and all/All the futuristic landscapes/Shaped like today/But just a few days later…" The only way to get it is to stand right up front and let the Thermals chip everything away.
Yeah, we have the album (Sub Pop: buy it at the mall. We did), and it gets a little same-y. It's closer to the stage show we saw than us just doing this–!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!–but it's not gonna crack you open. See, the Thermals only have one song, but it says something different every time, and they play it live like it's going to save somebody, and (whenever we've seen them) they play until someone makes them stop. The new one tonight starts with bass and drums–maybe they wrote it just as the first guitarist was walking out of the practice space–and when Hutch stomps on the guitar, it's so revelatory it's a sunrise. You don't burn with the Thermals–you melt. And that was all that needed to happen: the short rest of the set we saw kept us alive for days.
They finished with a song called "Overgrown, Overblown!" (exclamation point respectfully included), and you can get these and more lyrics off the album and learn to sing them with everyone else, which you should. It's a good song to end on: "Nod if you're near/If you can hear me/Signal if you feel/If you're feeling it/Tell me if it hurts/If you've heard this/I finally found my voice and I'm speechless/I know you came for a reason/I know you came to believe me/Believe me/Every day/I wanna feel the same/Every day/I don't wanna feel the same/But we can power through/Yeah-oh!" They looked a little disappointed when the clock said finish, like they had more left in them. We read that shirt (which we realize was now an actual thermal) again as the lights arced up. Kid, stay thermal–it's important to keep warm.