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January 16, 2014 at 4:34 PM

The Thermals do one thing, and do it well, at Neumos anniversary show | Concert review

The Thermals

The Thermals, from Portland, played Neumos Wednesday. Photo courtesy of The Windish Agency.

Long-lost grunge-era ghosts — Truly, Lucky Me, Alcohol Funnycar — populated the bills for the past five nights’ gigs commemorating Neumos’ tenth anniversary.

Relative to those groups, The Thermals — which headlined Wednesday, the penultimate show of the Capitol Hill club’s weeklong nostalgia fest — are practically newborns.

Even in 2003, when the Portland three-piece dropped its aggressively catchy Sub Pop debut “More Parts Per Million,” it was seen as a throwback, an earnest island in a disaffected sea of Interpols, Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

But eleven years and six albums later, that first LP remains as close to a classic as indie-rock bands muster nowadays. Sub Pop’s local-centric subsidiary Hardly Art even took its name from the hipster-bashing opening couplet of lead single “No Culture Icons” — “hardly art, hardly starving / hardly art, hardly garbage.”

As it’s progressed, the band has made subtle tweaks to its frenzied punk-pop sound, and on last year’s “Desperate Ground,” adopted an angrier, decidedly left-leaning lyrical slant.

Wednesday’s catalog-spanning hour-long set, however, demonstrated addition by subtraction. The political material didn’t preach. The more emotional songs weren’t overwrought. The stage banter began and ended with “thank you.” The kit lacked a floor tom, but drummer Westin Glass, with bassist Kathy Foster’s rhythmic assists, made it work.

For some, singer-guitarist Hutch Harris’s breathless, high-pitched lilt — registering somewhere between Blink 182’s nasally Tom DeLonge and The Hold Steady’s verbose Craig Finn — is an acquired taste. And despite its energetic stage presence Wednesday, the group’s tonal uniformity — loud, louder, loudest — eventually began to wear thin.

Still, if you’re going to do just one thing, do it well, and The Thermals do. Though the room was only about half-full, the diehards up front had every word memorized, managing good-natured mosh pits for songs like the rip-roaring “Here’s Your Future” and “An Ear For Baby” — both from 2006’s “The Body, The Blood, The Machine” — before seeing the band off.

In their quest for a sweet spot where punk and blues collide, second-billed locals My Goodness — not to be confused with 1990s alt-rockers Goodness, who played last week — receive their fair share of Black Keys comparisons. They’re not off-base — even if the trio’s heavily distorted dude-rock is ultimately a little more Mudhoney than Mississippi Delta.

Summer Cannibals, a young Portland foursome, satiated early-birds with 20 minutes of rough-hewn, 4/4 garage-rock that was tuneful and likable enough, but indistinct.

Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: Neumos, Portland, The Thermals


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