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ISSUE 120 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/2/2007

Portland's Thermals detonate in Minneapolis

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, March 2, 2007

Fire and heat jokes, ahoy! The Thermals blazed through a blistering set Tuesday at the Triple Rock Social Club.

The show opened up with Middlepicker. The name is about right - they were pretty average. The highlight of the set had nothing to do with the band. Instead, it was when “that” guy showed up. Anyone who has ever been to a concert knows that guy.

The guy looks like he could be 16, maybe a little older, and because he's so moved by the music, he feels compelled to run up right in front of the stage and dance. The fact that the band wasn't playing dance music and that he does not, in fact, know how to dance does not deter this guy.

So he shuffles about, distracting and annoying audience and band alike. Luckily for us, this guy was abnormally awkward. He made both the audience and the band laugh a little, but by the end of the set, I just wanted to punch him.

It's a good thing I didn't, because I would have been kicked out. I would have missed the awesome second opener, The Big Sleep. Seeing a good opener is rare, but they were epic. From the skill of all three band members (in particular bass player Sonya Balchandani had superb technique) to the Earth-shattering force of their sound, I was impressed with all facets of their show. I'm a huge fan of both Sonic Youth and Spoon, and this band hit that sweet spot right in the middle of rhythm and noise.

And the Thermals just rocked. It's so hard to say anything else about them. Everything about their performance was right on and I just don't know where to start.

I guess I'll start with their presence. I saw the Thermals the last time they were here, and they really have grown as a stage band since then. In particular, front man Hutch Harris has developed a much more identifiable stage presence. Especially with the delegation of some guitar duties to Joel Burrows, a tour guitarist who looks suspiciously like John Darnielle, Harris has really been able to come into his own. He dances around like the illegitimate child of a televangelist and Burt Bacharach. It's hotter than it sounds – trust me.

Naturally, the band drew heavily on material from their newest record, The Body, The Blood, The Machine (nearly the entire album was played). My favorite songs from their first two albums were played, so I really can't complain. There's no shame in playing to your strengths, and the new record really puts solid rock songwriting at the forefront.

“An Ear For Baby” and “No Culture Icons” were the unofficial centerpieces of the show. Aside from the crowd favorite “Pillar of Salt,” these two got the audience psyched out of their collective mind, unleashing a minor (politely Minnesotan) mosh pit.

The band just pushed it throughout the entire show. Their records are so ridiculously high energy, that it's hard to believe they could be topped. I have no idea how they do it, but The Thermals mounted an all-out auditory assault that makes their studio albums seem tame.

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