Show Review: The Thermals - Brooklyn Bowl NYC (4/20 & 4/21)
The Thermals via Portland Oregon are one of my favorite bands of all time. I've seen these cats three or four times in NYC and twice in Philly. I initially saw them on MT2 Subterranean back in the day in their video for How We Know from the album Fuckin-A. I was immediately hooked. I started seeking them out live after I picked up The Body, The Blood, The Machine (one of the top albums of all time in my opinion). As a guitar/drum/bass three piece their shows are loud and energetic = fun rock. With Hutch Harris (lead vocals/guitar) and Kathy Foster (bass/backing vocals) at the helm since day one they seem to have a Spinal Tap-esque rotation of different drummers over their career but the latest guy seems to be here to stay as he's been along for the last two tours. He loves the crowd and has a shit-eating-grin as he pounds away. Their albums are a good mix of punk and pop with lyrics that can make you think...but not too much. Dark humor is the best way to describe them especially on their last record Now We Can See. The lyrics on BBM are a playful stab at Christianity that should be viewed as just that...playful...whether your Christian, Agnostic or Atheist. Now lets talk about the shows...
Brooklyn Bowl (http://www.brooklynbowl.com/) which opened its doors in Williamsburg last year is a place I've never been to. I lived in Williamsburg back in 2000 on Bedford and South 2nd street as it was just beginning its hipster/gentrification build. There were minimal bars/clubs/restaurants/people. I feel like an old timer when I go there now as its 1000x more vibrant. Like the East Village on ritalin. Abandoned warehouses have been replaced by clothing/art/restaurant/loft installations. Not to mention the modern condos that litter the neighborhood (much to my dismay).
Brooklyn Bowl is a bowling alley/bar/restaurant/music venue which is pretty freakin cool. The space is unique to say the least. It looks like a refurbished brick warehouse (no windows) that may have been used prior by the Brooklyn Brewery which it backs into off of Wythe Ave and north 11th street. The space is completely open so if you are lucky to reserve an overpriced lane around 10pm then you'll also get to check out some live music behind you. Still trying to figure the whole situation out.
The first night I went with my friend Tracy and her boyfriend. The second night I went with a few friends (Amanda & Ridge) and my girlfriend Tracy (pictured here). Go figure.
The venue about the size of Irving Plaza in NY or The Troc in Philly but slightly smaller with no balcony. The first night was sold out but there was room to move. I caught the tail end of the first opener (The Coathangers...I think). They were God awful. A bunch of wannabe riot grrrls with no musical talent. just screaming and drumming and keyboards while pissing the crowd off between songs. That's my assessment. The second opener Past Lives was a different story. As they began playing I thought the lead singer and a few of his bandmates looked familiar as well as the sound. Turns out they are 70% of the recently broken up band The Blood Brothers. I'm a HUGE Blood Brothers fan. I believe two of the BBs including the lead vocalist teamed up with former Pretty Girls Make Graves members to form Jaguar Love while the remaining members including the backing vocalist formed Past Lives. Similar sound as the BBs but way more structured/melodic. Extremely great live on both nights. I have to pick up their record ASAP. Here are some pics (click to enlarge).
The Thermals took the stage the first night and just killed it. I was in the back of the venue and the sound was still incredible (despite the stage adjacent to a bowling alley). Like a nerd I tried to capture notes on the set list during the shows using my blackberry calendar (proooobably should of used the "memo pad" application...idiot). My blackberry subsequently died this past weekend so I'll have to go by memory. Here is the set list from the 4/18 show in Boston at The Middle East which gives you an idea. They pretty much played the same tracks on both nights but in a different order. (Bold = NEW!)
1. Now We Can See
2. We Were Sick
3. I Let It Go
4. When I Died
5. It's Trivia
6. How We Know
7. St. Rosa and the Swallows
8. Only For You
9. I Don't Believe You
10. A Passing Feeling
11. Back to Gray
13. Here's Your Future
14. I Might Need You to Kill
15. Test Pattern
16. When I Was Afraid
17. An Ear for Baby
18. A Pillar of Salt
19. No Culture Icons
20. Returning to the Fold
The band sounded great as always. The crowd sucked on the first night per NYC standard (people talking/yelling over the music, motionless, young girls texting and looking around everywhere but the stage). The crowd was a little more lively the second night. That assessment could be skewed as I was way upfront for the 2nd night and closer to "the action". Tracy is a peanut as is my friend Amanda so getting close to the stage was priority #1...less tall dudes to look around. I'm a big freak so if they made a adult-sized Baby Bjorn I would accommodate. They played a healthy mix of tracks from old albums (How We Know, No Culture Icons, Our Trip) as well as newer favorites (Here's Your Future, Now We Can See, A Pillar of Salt, We Were Sick, St Rosa & The Swallows, When I Died, Returning To The Fold).
However on both nights they played three or four brand new songs which were SOOOOOO GOOD (no Canada unfortunately). Usually I get a little skeptical when bands test out new tracks on the road but I was pleasantly surprised (mainly cause I cant sing along/bob my head from memory). Very melodic lead riffs with some heavy/fast bass lines as well. The also played the track Separate off of their Record Store Day split 7inch with The Cribs. The new tracks sounded like a perfect hybrid of song structure from the last two albums. That said I am mega psyched for their new album which will come out later this year.
Here is a video I captured of one of the new songs on the second night. Blogger couldn't upload directly so I had to create a YouTube account (whether I create a CugeRock YouTube channel remains to be seen).
I don't think this track was played in Boston judging from the set list above. I remember they played I Don't Believe You and Separate in NY and Only For You just doesn't seem right given the chorus (Power Lies? Power Lines?). The video quality is great but the audio seems to cut out every time I zoom or "woo"...sorry.
All and all both shows were incredible as usual. A mix of old, recent and brand new tracks. They encored with Returning To The Fold on night one and Our Trip on night two (which was awesome). If you ever get a chance to see this band in your city please please please do so. You will be fully satisfied with a meal of pure rock goodness?