Wednesday, Sept. 9
The Thermals are a case study in threes: three musicians, pouring their hearts into three-chord rock 'n' roll. The Portland, Ore., trio pulled into the Old Pueblo after hitting Phoenix the night before. I actually had just seen the band perform up in the big valley a few months before, at the respectable Rhythm Room. I asked bassist Kathy Foster, "Why so many Arizona shows in such a short period?" and she coyly responded, "We were in the area and had the time." Works for me.
Aside from the crowd differential—yes, Phoenix beat us this time—both shows were full of similar vibrations. The Thermals play their parts so well that the power-pop-punk flows like a flash flood. Foster and singer-guitarist Hutch Harris were precious in their preppy mod getups, complete with matching Keds and sweatbands on their strumming/slapping wrists. The back and forth between them is worth the price of admission alone; they feed off each other's riffs like Mates of State on speed. During one song, Harris even knelt down in a Hendrix-guitar-god pose at the feet of Foster. Apparently, satire is never that far from a hipster's heart.
Drummer Westin Glass is the glue that bonds it all together; his tight beats, on a basic kit, are right on the money. The band blew through its hour set of a dozen-plus songs. Familiar anthems had the crowd amped and singing along, while newer tracks went over well. Harris and Foster were extremely gracious, thanking Tucson several times for "coming out on a Wednesday night." The 50 or so folks in attendance responded in kind by getting the group out for an encore, and keeping the energy level up until the last note.
So which show takes the cake? The Rhythm Room was more exciting, simply because of the larger crowd. With a band like The Thermals, that makes a difference. On the other hand, Club Congress is a great venue, and there was a palpable intimacy; the band even hung out on the patio post-show. Both shows were winners, and this desert enclave should be stoked that national touring bands like The Thermals enjoy parking their vans on Toole Avenue.