Letter From the Editor
“Look Out Seattle, Someone Gave the Debate Team an Electric Guitar – The Thermals Infectious Nerdpunk Captivates the Northwest”
Live @ The Sub Pop Anniversary Party
Crocodile Cafe, Seattle WA
Late April 2003
No Culture Icons
Sub Pop Records
By Matt Ashworth
Nine times out of ten, seeing a band live either a) expands and deepens my appreciation for their music, b) convinces me that a band I was lukewarm on is actually darn good or c) gives me at least a different take on the artist that inevitably carries over to the album.
Then there’s the rare occassion when seeing a band spoils things for me. Usually its a temporary annoyance that’s forgotten after a few weeks of shelving the album in favor of something new. Other times it ruins bands forever – or at least until I get coaxed into seeing them again and am treated to some sort of redeeming display that makes me wonder what the fuck I was on when I disliked them so much the first time.
Having missed The Thermals highly-praised (at least among our staff and network of music savants) performance opening for The Walkmen and Hot Hot Heat at the Vera Project earlier this year, I’d spent a good 10 weeks adoring their low-fi debut More Parts Per Million before Sub Pop’s annual anniversary party at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe last spring.
Which is a shame, cause I’m sure The Thermals aren’t really the most annoying live band ever to grace the stage of all time forever, but they sure seemed like it at the Sub Pop party this past spring. They performed hot on the heels of a blistering and unexpected set from the label’s recent signings The Constantatines and judging ftom the buzz circulating the hipster crowd that night, who apparently could only find time to see one of the 6 great acts on the bill that evening, The Thermals were downright offensive.
The songs were delivered with the same musically-inexperienced-adequacy as the young Portland band displays on No Culture Icons, but something was missing. Instead of creating the uplifting, endearing and downright inspiring vibe I get when singer Hutch Harris yelps “I Can’t Stop Fuckin’, Thinkin’ About You” on “No Culture Icons” or “I Know the Pattern” induces your foot tappin’ against your will, the music felt contrived. Like someone had mistakenly convinced the band that their heart-on-their-sleeves diary entries had been somehow polished to a pulitzer-winning sheen. As a result The Thermals seemed cocky, and like they weren’t having as much fun as everyone says they typically have on stage. It felt like they thought we should care, and maybe we should have, that they were doing us all a favor by reading the juicy parts of their journal.
They looked nerdy. Really nerdy. Not just in that they were probably the kids who ate alone in the lunchroom and tried out for the debate club, but they seemed out of place even on their own stage. Like they’d proclaimed themselves “King of the Dipshits” but accidentally forgot to tell anyone about it. I suspect that they might have had better things to do on a Sunday night than hang out with a bunch of hipster doofuses who’ve got nothing better to do on a Sunday night than go to rock shows with other hipster doofi.
After the first couple of songs, I just couldn’t watch anymore. The first three people I talked to gave the canned “Thermals were great…….” and I was just about to write it off as my own pissy mood when I encountered good old Diane McCallister, Nada contributor and fellow outcast in the scene that night, patiently waiting for her beloved Kinski to play their technically-brilliant and sonically-breathtaking set.”What the fuck was that?” she asked as I walked by. “I thought you said those guys were terrific. They suck. And worse yet I’m supposed to not only accept that they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing but also celebrate some skinny dork without a shirt? No thanks.”
Of course, the answer to her question is “yes, you are supposed to celebrate it”, but not until the band remembers why we fell in love with them so quickly in the first place, and that’s because they’re just like we are. Or at least we think they are. And since we’ve all pretty much convinced ourselves by this point that we’re not knocking on the door of Dylanhood, harboring a Prince-like sex appeal or cultivating Tom Waits style cult status, The Thermals are all we’ve got.
No Culture Icons is an absolutely invigorating slab of heart-on-the-sleeves rock n’ roll that makes me smile every time I listen to it. It’s music made by normal, awkward people just like all the people you know, only but with more conviction and confidence than nearly anyone. Buy it.
And by the time you get out to see them live, let’s hope The Thermals remember they’re still just a bunch of debate club dorks who’d be decorating The Constantine’s locker, cheating off Kinski’s paper and are just the type of dipshits who go to a rock show on a Sunday night.