Seeing the Thermals live, what stands out is how they get so much out of so little. One guitar. One vocalist. One bass. A drum kit with one kick, one snare and a few cymbals. Frontman Hutch Harris only uses four distortion pedals, and his fingers don't exactly fly up and down the neck of his guitar. It's a pretty lean, simple operation.
It's also a pretty smart operation. Their sound is so minimalistic that the slightest flourish creates a compelling climax. Certainly, there is no lack of three-piece, thrash-it-out punk bands out there. What sets the Thermals apart is they've found that punk rock promised land of having fun without being goofy.
The band opened with a string of songs off their latest album, last year's religious-themed "The Body the Blood the Machine." Tracks like "Here's Your Future" and "An Ear for Baby," made for great scream-alongs, with lines like "God reached his hands out from the sky/God asked Noah if he wanted to die/ he said no sir, oh no sir" and "God said here's your future ... it's gonna rain."
The band played almost the whole album last night (including a standout version of "Saint Rosa), sprinkling it in between a solid amount of songs from their older albums. Toward the end, the songs started to bleed together slightly, an unavoidable drawback of such a simple sound. But, smartly, they had held back two of "The Body he Blood the Machine's" best tracks, "Pillar of Salt" and "Returning to the Fold," which revved the crowd back up for the encore.
Despite playing and sweating her guts out, bassist Kathy Foster perched outside the Casbah after the show. With the same energy and sly smile that makes her so compelling on stage, she signed vinyl, talked to fans, and gave a thumbs-down to the House of Blues, (right on!) where they played last time they came through San Diego. she also agreed to strike the Heisman pose, for which we at Baby Heisman thank her.