The Thermals / Shaky Hands - live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)

The Thermals / Shaky Hands

live in Philadelphia (2009)

live show

The Thermals' aesthetic can be summed up in one word: simplicity. Whether you look at them as a pop-punk band that indie kids adore, or an indie band punk kids gravitate towards, their appeal always stems from their stripped-down recordings and honed songwriting. Guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris spits out effortless, nursery-rhyme-like melodies that linger like commercial jingles, while banging out familiar four-chord progressions that sound both impassioned and bright thanks to a touch of fuzz. Backing him up is a no-frills rhythm section that is more concerned with a steady, workman-like drive than accents or interjections. It would only make sense, then, that the band's current tour should follow the same sort of parameters.

Openers Point Juncture, WA and Shaky Hands seemed cut from the same unassuming cloth as the Thermals. The former offered up a smooth set of indie pop with warm bursts of distortion, while the latter traded in some of the atmosphere of their recorded material for the sort of guitar rock-oriented-indie that college radio loved back in the `90s. Both bands set the mood with a casual demeanor that would carry over to the headliners.

The Thermals took the stage facing the sold-out crowd with ear-to-ear grins before launching into "Returning to the Fold." And while Harris's vocals were loud, clear, and declarative, like he'd been waiting to sing the song all his life, the sound of his guitar was buried under an overwhelming bass tone. Maybe it was just my vantage point, but this mixing issue continued throughout the set, leaving me to think I wouldn't have been able to pick out many of the leads at all if it weren't for my familiarity with the songs.

Banter was almost non-existent as the band hurried through a set heavy on their two most recent albums, The Body, The Blood, The Machine, and the recently released Now We Can See. Besides the occasional "Fuck yeah, Philly!" Harris didn't have much to say as he and his bandmates rocked through songs like "Now We Can See," "How We Know," "We Were Sick," "A Pillar of Salt," "Our Trip," "I Called Out Your Name" and "St. Rosa and the Swallows," with the excitement of sugar-addled teens.

While smiles from Harris and bassist Kathy Foster indicated the band's pleasure with the crowd, it was drummer Westin Glass who bubbled over with sheer enthusiasm. Between songs (and even mid-song) Glass would stand up from behind his kit, point his sticks towards the crowd, and shout or applaud as if he had paid to watch them. During most songs you could also see him shouting along with Harris like a true fanboy. At the end of the set he even high-fived front-rowers like a football player enjoying a post-touchdown celebration.

Show closer "No Culture Icons" and encore pick "It's Trivia" took the crowd back to the band's debut and raised cries from the lips of the diehards. It was an unostentatious ending to what can only be described as a spartan set.

While the sound issues were frustrating, the Thermals did what they do best: deliver catchy rock songs with little to no adornment and, for anyone familiar with the band, you really couldn't have asked for much more.