Published on May 3rd, 2016 | by Kendon Luscher0
The Thermals @ The Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH – April 22, 2016
The Thermals were wise to make their new album We Disappear fewer than thirty minutes. Aside from being the perfect length for a pop-punk album, it allows the band to tour promoting the new album with plenty of left over time to play every single song off their 2006 album The Body, The Blood, The Machine.
The band had no illusions as to why the crowd showed up at the Grog Shop Friday night. It was clear from their promotion material, stating the band would play the entire 2006 classic. It was clear in the way front man Hutch Harris smirked and yucked up theatrics when the crowd started chanting along to the first song off that album. Despite just releasing a new album, this band is and forever will be tied to an album that came out with two years remaining in the Bush presidency.
Whenever The Thermals played a song off The Body, the audience went nuts, dancing and singing and moving in possessed gestures, but the momentum from those songs would only carry halfway through the next song before the energy tapered off again.
None of this is remotely the band’s fault, and it’s definitely not to suggest it wasn’t an amazing show. This was one of the best shows I have covered in the last few years. A lot of that is a testament to how good the band is that even as the crowd’s energy died off, the band’s energy never did.
Harris is, quite frankly, a great front man. Just astounding. He stayed in constant motion the whole show, making choreographed arm motions like something out of an 80s middle school dance troupe, and while that sounds like a slight, those motions punctuated the lyrics. At times, he was simply spellbinding up there, caught between dancing and acting.
Bassist and co-founder Kathy Foster had great chemistry with Harris, engaging in banter with both him and the audience, and she had fantastic hair. I know that sounds like a small thing, but each band member had their own look that contributed to the fun atmosphere. Her hair deserves a 10/10 on its own merits, but add in the way she moved around her corner of the stage with raw energy while the hair stayed miraculously in place, and it deserves an 11/10 rating. That isn’t even factoring in her before-mentioned banter.
“I went to Hot Topic before the tour,” Foster said at one point. “And everyone was twelve, so I left.”
She made a perfect Robin to Harris’ Batman, spouting out jokes between songs at her every whim.
Jessica Boudreaux played lead guitar hunched over with hair obscuring her face, threatening to tangle into the strings of her guitar. Not that pop-punk is the most technically difficult genre, but she played the hell out of that guitar. This was after her own band, Summer Cannibals, opened for The Thermals. That band showed a lot of energy, too. If Boudreaux was tired, she didn’t show it. Much like Foster and Harris, she never stopped moving the entire set.
For most of the show, drummer Westin Glass played the lanky, nerdy, quiet persona behind his kit. Before We Disappear’s more subdued “If We Don’t Die Today,” he took out a lighter and swayed it in the air. This was his only show of personality until the end of the set when he popped out of his seat suddenly and stage dove into the crowd. Occasionally, Harris would come over to Glass in the middle of a song, and they would sing together into the microphone, but the drummer stayed mostly uninvolved in the band’s antics. Given the rest of the personalities on that stage and the general difficulty of involving a drummer in banter, this was in no way a drawback to the show’s entertainment value.
If there was any drawback at all, it was the way the crowd kept shouting song names mostly from The Body, The Blood, The Machine that the band hadn’t gotten to yet. Firstly, this was stupid because the band pretty much followed the track list. All the crowd had to do was think back to what the last song from that album was that the band had already played, and the referenced that song against a Wikipedia article for the album that displays all the track names. A quick cross-reference would indicate to audience members roughly how much longer they had to wait for their favorite song from that album. Secondly, this was rude. The band is touring on the strength of their new album that came out just over a month ago and on the ten year anniversary of their most popular album. The set list was pretty obvious to anyone with a brain.
“Everyone call out song titles all at once,” he said. “Yes… Right… That’s a Prince song, whatever… That’s Sublime… Don’t stop.”
To one request for a song that was not their own, Boudreaux laughed and said, “We’re a pop-punk band, we only know three chords.”
It may not be fair, and the band probably finds it annoying, but The Body has venom to its lyrics and pacing that their other albums just don’t. That alone means it translates better in a live setting than their other, less aggressive albums. In that way, the crowd’s song requests, while stupid and rude, were understandable. As good as these songs are in recorded format, their live counterparts upstaged them. From simply an entertainment value, that’s enough to warrant their popularity over all other material.
But The Body, The Blood, The Machine does something more than any of that. When it came out in 2006, it seemed to be a commentary on Bush’s America, his post-9/11 policies. America was angry by then, and this album encapsulated that anger with wit and catchiness and power and intelligence. It was the perfect album for an imperfect moment in American history. The audience at the show was mostly composed of 30-somethings who were just beginning to care about the world outside of themselves in 2006.
If it were only a piece of nostalgia, though, that album wouldn’t hold up. Unfortunately, it turns out the album is still relevant today. It turns out, that album isn’t about a particular president making a particular set of mistakes. Whether the band intended it to be or not, that album is about the segment of America that uses religion and politics as an excuse to do awful things to other people without consequence. That hasn’t changed in the ten years since that album released, which says something about The Thermals subsequent output.
This band keeps releasing great pop-punk albums. 2009’s, Now We Can See is a great piece existential weirdness on par with anything on The Body. This newest album, while slower than their previous six albums, is catchy as hell with excellent lyrics as always and beautifully arranged songs and tracking. This is a band that hasn’t fallen off one bit, but everyone keeps coming back to that one album.
The Body, The Blood, The Machine was their most direct attack on a concept that sickens both the band and many of their fans. Religion and politics shouldn’t be a weapon for evil. That goes without saying, and yet The Thermals needed to say it anyway. They did it to perfection, and it stuck with fans. It still sticks with fans. But when they nail the subject on their third album and then make four more, what else can they do or say that will unseat that album as the go-to source of outrage?
I wasn’t surprised that each song from that classic album was played as a rallying cry, and the crowd rallied back – at least for the duration of those songs. I get it, and I think The Thermals get it, too. They seemed just as giddy to play those songs from ten years ago as they were to play their new songs off their new album, and I have to imagine they’ll keep playing those songs until the band breaks up or people change.