Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Concert Review: The Thermals at Respectable Street

If bands can have off nights, so can venues. Oh my goodness, can venues have off nights. Last night seemed to be one of them for West Palm Beach’s Respectable Street, which booked the stellar Portland rockers Thermals for what was reputedly its first South Florida appearance, along with local favorites Beach Day (from Hollywood) and The Band in Heaven (from West Palm Beach).

The Band in Heaven sounded solid, if a bit too bass-heavy and thunderous for the band’s dream-pop aesthetic; Beach Day followed with a set that also seemed to drown in bass, taking the vocals with it. But both sounded better than the headliners, which is unfortunate for those of us who’ve been waiting 10 years to shout along to such great lo-fi fist-pumpers as “It’s Trivia” and “Brace and Break.”

The trio of guitarist Hutch Harris, bassist Kathy Foster and drummer Westin Glass certainly brought a level of enthusiasm to the stage; like the Ramones used to do, they rarely paused between songs, which made the entire blistering affair seem like one long noisy squall. This had an egalitarian effect on the band’s songs, whose recording methods have varied from garage-grimy to studio-crisp, but in yesterday’s setting sounded pretty much the same – which is to say, not very good (I happened to peak in during their sound-check, which sounded much better).

The small cluster of die-hard fans in this under-attended show could, and did, sing along to the set list, which borrowed heavily from The Thermals’ new album “Desperate Ground” and its canonized 2006 concept album “The Body, The Blood, the Machine.” Any new listeners were no doubt lost in the wilderness, however, because Harris’ vocals were so buried as to be virtually incomprehensible for about 80 percent of the time. This was especially disappointing given how clever, transcendent and impactful Harris’ lyrics are; without them, the music’s impact shrunk by half, retaining only the rough, clangorous primer without the cerebral paint.

Respectable Street is a great club and is obviously capable of acoustics far better than last night’s. In this case, I’m probably not alone in thinking that I had a good time despite the venue, not because of it. Here’s the set list, which varies toward the end from the band’s recent European tour.

  1. You Will Find Me
  2. Returning to the Fold
  3. Born to Kill
  4. You Will Be Free
  5. I Might Need You to Kill
  6. An Ear for Baby
  7. How We Know
  8. Faces Stay With Me
  9. The Howl of the Winds
  10. It’s Trivia
  11. Brace and Break
  12. I Go Alone
  13. The Sword By My Side
  14. St. Rosa and the Swallows
  15. Pillar of Salt
  16. The Sunset
  17. Where I Stand
  18. Now We Can See
  19. Here’s Your Future

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