Surprisingly, it took The Thermals a little while to get warmed up on Tuesday night. When they took the stage at the High Noon Saloon, lead singer/guitarist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster were dressed appropriately for the slightly chilly spring night. By the third song on the set list "Let Go," Harris had shed his sport coat, and Foster's sweater followed soon after. The crowd however took a little longer.
They were nearly halfway through their set list when Madison music institution Marco Pogo pushed his way to the front of the stage. Finding a spot dead center he broke out his trademark move, bouncing up and down until the crowd around him joined in, before darting off. When the crowd calmed for the next song, a ballad, he returned to incite them again, much to the amusement of Harris. "Good ballad mosh for "Test Pattern," he grinned, "that's a first."
After that it was no turning back. The crowd shifted, swelled and sweated for the rest of their set, sporadically offering up a torso-and-limbs for a moderately successful body-passing effort. Occasionally they would be distracted from slamming into their neighbor by a ridiculously catchy riff like that from the title track from the new release Now We Can See with its infectious "Oh way oh whoa" chorus, and would clap along.
What's amazing about the unbridled joy that met the Portland band on what I believe is their first trip to Madison is that their songs are so dark. The bulk of Now We Can See deals with death, loneliness and loss. This is only slightly lighter subject matter than their previous release The Body, The Blood, The Machine, a caustic indictment of government and Christianity. So how do you get a crowd of twenty and thirty somethings to lose their minds for that? You wrap it in an undeniably infectious power pop package of course.
Throughout the set, Harris and Foster seemed to be in on a private joke, one not even drummer Westin Glass, the latest in a Spinal Tap-like parade behind the kit, was in on. The pair exchanged knowing looks throughout the set, which Harris tried to explain early on. "Kathy tries to fuck me up during the solos because I fuck them up anyway, then after the show she's like 'the solos were a little sloppy,'" he said, before attempting to clarify, "no, really, we have a lot of fun up here."
After powering through the nearly twenty songs on their set list the trio left the stage amid a flurry of cheers and high fives from the audience. After some pleading, they returned for a two song encore, the first of which was well-chosen cover "Laundry Room" by Nirvana. Despite the fact that the audience seemed to love The Thermals, they gave up awfully easy on a second encore. Or maybe it was just that when Hutch Harris says, "this is our last song," they didn't question him. He has that kind of conviction.