Broken down to their defining parts — power chords, scream-along lyrics, a whiny-voiced frontman — the Thermals sound like pretty much every other pop punk band out there. Even in recorded form it’s easy to gloss over just what it is that makes them so gosh darn special. But listen to the Portland trio rock out live and suddenly things start to click.
This past Saturday, the band headlined a night of non-stop buoyant indie rock that featured Ventura favs Franklin for Short, fellow Portland-ites Thao with the Get Down Stay Down (TWTGDSD), and a whole sea of enthused, enthralled, and downright enamored fans. Fronted by onetime soloist Thao Nguyen, TWTGDSD rocked through a series of cuts off their most recent release, Know Better Learn Faster, including the upbeat “Good Bye, Good Luck” and the disc’s slow building title track. The set marked a decided shift in confidence for the band, who were fresh out of the recording studio and markedly wearier when they played SOhO last October. With Nguyen rocking out on an oversized Fender, drummer Willis Thompson stood atop his kit and encouraged folks to clap along, while bassist Adam Thompson and a new-addition keyboardist held down the low end. Older numbers like “Bag of Hammers” found the majority of the crowd oh-ohhh-ing along with Nguyen’s powerful vocal laments, while hands-down high point “Swimming Pools” incited a small but mighty dance party, setting the ideal stage for what was to follow.
With the crowd good and primed, The Thermals made their grand entrance at just past 11 p.m. with their breakthrough hit “No Culture Icons,” off 2003’s More Parts Per Million. From there the energy moved from raw punk fury to upbeat dance fest, then back again. While frontman Hutch Harris — like any good rock star — found himself soaked in sweat just a few songs in, bassist Kathy Foster casually stepped into and out of backing vocalist position as the band plowed through their setlist. Old school Thermals junkies delighted in a mix of cuts off the band’s back catalogue, including standouts “How We Know” and “Here’s Your Future,” which caused a good spirited mini mosh pit on Velvet’s tightly packed floor. Pleasantly, the straightforward “We Were Sick” and sing-a-long ready “I Called Out Your Name” (both off last year’s Now We Can See) held their own in the mix, with the record’s anthemic title track getting one of the most enthusiastic and energetic crowd responses of the night, and proving that the Thermals not only still have it, but still know how to flaunt it.