I saw The Thermals perform less than three months ago, when they stopped by at Maxwell's on their pre-SXSW tour. On that night, the setlist was divided pretty much evenly between their decade-old debut album, More Parts Per Million, and their (then) as-yet unreleased new LP, Desperate Ground. Although the Thermals never really stopped rocking over their previous couple of albums, focusing on the punkier early stuff and the new material (which was described by the band at the time as a purposeful return to their skuzzier, more lo-fi beginnings) seemed to be a conscious effort to scale back the more despondent, emo-ish leanings of '09's Now We Can See and '10's Personal Life.
The Thermals appeared on my home turf at Bowery Ballroom on the two nights prior (5/28 and 5/29), but I skipped those in favor of this show, knowing I was going to be in DC anyway for "work" and to see a few friends during this weekend. Started with some beverages at my pal Bricer's place before meeting up with another buddy, Salsa, at vaguely British-themed pub The Codmother. Several further potent potables and a brisk evening stroll later, we found ourselves at the nearby Black Cat, a venue I'd never been to before.
First impressions of The Black Cat were pretty damn great; the layout actually reminds me a bit of a balcony-less Bowery, in that the crowd enters the room towards the right (if you're facing the stage) in the way back, which means that sneaking up close to the stage on the left is easy. We did so immediately, although we probably wound up too close to the speakers, for which my cheap earplugs were no match (left ear still ringing 4 days later). I liked that the bars flanked the floor, which allowed for many PBR tall boy purchases throughout the evening, and the sound wound up being great, as well. Really, really, really like this room.
We skipped the opening acts, and less than 10 minutes after entering the building, The Thermals began their set with Desperate Ground's "Where I Stand". I had marveled at the band's spirited display at the Maxwell's show, and it amazes me that they seem to manage to put out maximum effort like this night after night. Of course, this sort of sweaty, dynamic presentation fits perfectly for a band whose catalog regularly draws upon themes of perseverence and struggle.
I bitch a lot about Brooklyn crowds sucking, and, for the most part, the crowd at this show was no different. (For the record, the single lamest crowd I've ever seen was Van Halen at DC's Verizon Center last March, and friends who live in the area have often lamented DC's apathetic crowds.) Several kids up front seemed to be rocking the fuck out, and there was some stage diving, but overall those standing motionless greatly outnumbered the people who seemed to be enjoying themselves, which is a fuckin' shame any way ya slice it. Fortunately, this didn't affect the band's performance one iota, as Hutch rabidly sweated through his shirt, Kathy pogoed joyously, and Westin stage dove with abandon - hell yeah.
Just as at the Maxwell's show, the setlist delved heavily into More Parts Per Million and Desperate Ground, but at this show equal time was given to their 2006 masterpiece, The Body, the Blood, the Machine, songs from which made up several of the evening's finest performances. Other highlights for me were the show's lone representative from Fuckin' A, "How We Know," and MPPM's "No Culture Icons," which served as the evening's encore (see above and below for video of both).
Going to shows like this is an invigorating experience for me, which is why I try to get out as much as I can. Of course, there are few bands that are as enjoyable live as The Thermals. If you live in the southwest or Cali, do yourself a favor and check them out over these next few days while they're still on tour, and when you do, don't be afraid to move around a l'il.