photos by Alexis Maindrault, words by Andrew Frisicano
As their Twitter makes clear, this tour, the Thermals are into Furbys. The blinking, ear-wiggling, talking (though not during the show) animatronic creatures took the stage, courtesy of a roadie, five minutes before the band: The Thermals will not play without their Furbys. The trio came out (Hutch, Kathy and drummer Westin, who always kind of looks like their child playing drums for mom and dad's band), and it was "Here's Your Future," the rousing first track off The Body, the Blood, the Machine (BBM, if you will) that got the blood flowing to start off the night.
"We opened for Sleater-Kinney here five years ago," Hutch said of Irving Plaza, the mildly impersonal hall (partially because of the barricade between band and crowd) that hawks its popcorn and pizza (both a bit too pricy) between bands.
Tonight they were headlining, and playing in support of new record Personal Life, an inward look from the band prone to fist-pumpable anthems (the "When We Were Alive" boast of "you shoulda seen us in our PRIME" being one prime example). Shedding some light on the LP, Hutch remarked, "It's not about my personal life [pause]...it's slightly about my personal life." Which is good news for people looking for the band to take a new direction after the sorta meandering "Now We Can See," the much lighter follow-up to the agit-punk epic BBM.
At Irving Plaza, BBM's "Returning to the Fold" elicited mock baptisms and prayerful hands aloft in rapture. For that same album's single, "Pillar of Salt," even the soundboard operator, who had previously sold me my ticket (multi-tasking!), sang along.
The group also tapped into their first two albums, collections that could be described with words like "arty," "lo-fi," "post-." Thankfully, almost 10 years later, those tracks still stand up to repeated abuse live. They continue to be among the most energetically recieved, and it's fairly easy to see why. The tempos are fast, and Westin at the edge of his seat pounds the beats into the hi-hat and snare.
Personal Life is another beast all together. The drum kit is less manic, often tapping away at the ride cymbal, while the guitar drops at times to out put the bass up front. For those songs ("There's Nothing You Can't Learn," "Never Listen To Me," "Not Like Any Other Feeling") Hutch barely goes to his guitar, instead articulating the lyrics in Craig Finn-like gestures and poses. I'm sure the crowd will be jiving along with him in future shows, but here at least, it was fun to watch.
Second opener Twin Shadow (I missed So Cow unfortunately) filled in ably for Cymbals Eat Guitars, with their laid-back synth-pop. Twin Shadow's sound is immediately appealingly, syrupy and retro (chill, even), but the smooth vocals of George Lewis Jr. make the band a sexier enterprise than other gauzy '80s-inspired bands. In their hands, the big space felt like an intimate bedroom session.
More tour dates HERE. More pictures from the show (So Cow included), and the Thermals setlist, below...
Thermals at Irving Plaza October 13th 2010 setlist
Here's Your Future
I Might Need You to Kill
There's Nothing You Can't Learn
I Don't Believe You
We Were Sick
When We Were Alive
Never Listen To Me
Not Like Any Other Feeling
No Culture Icons
How We Know
I Called Out Your Name
Returning to the Fold
St. Rosa and the Swallows
Only For You
Your Love Is So Strong
Back to Gray
When I Was Afraid
Now We Can See
A Pillar of Salt
enc: Power Doesn't Run on Nothing