War and Peace


photo by Alicia J. Rose

Thermals guitarist and vocalist Hutch Harris has described the Portland trio’s sixth album Desperate Ground (released April 16, 2013 on Saddle Creek Records), as a record about killing, war and violence. Naturally, the audience at Fortune Sound Club was a little suspicious of a band called ‘Peace‘. The audience kept a wary distance from the stage, but they had nothing to fear: Peace didn’t bite. Peace actually didn’t really do anything. The audience didn’t stir, remaining as stiff as the band. Maybe the crowd was just really channeling the band’s name, but that may just be wishful thinking. At the very most, there was the smallest ripple of head-bobs during Peace’s most upbeat song “Your Hand in Mine”, their set closer and lead single from their second album The World Is Too Much With Us (Suicide Squeeze, 2012).

Peace’s dourness may have fit on a different bill, but opening for a pack of loyal Thermals fans, who were expecting and ready to reciprocate their own pent-up positive energy, Peace just came off as a bum start to a fun night. But I’ve seen Peace before, and I’ve read the acclaim, including spots on countless local best of 2012 lists and glowing praise from breakout Vancouver bands White Lung and Nü Sensae, so I know Peace have their own devoted fans; just don’t ask me where they were Friday night.

Like many Thermals fans, I got into the band with their third album The Body, The Blood, The Machine; except I was almost seven years late. I was lucky enough, however, to get into the album just in time to see them come to town.

Despite Desperate Ground’s theme of violence, which one would rightfully assume promises a confrontational show, The Thermals also insist that the album is “entertainment”, a “pulpy” and fun soundtrack to an action film. And, citing early Green Day, LARPing (live-action role-play) and histrionic power metal including Dragonforce as other influences, the evening more accurately promised a playful flare.

When I first learned that The Thermals and party synth-pop duo Matt & Kim were good friends and former tour mates, they seemed like an unlikely pair. But after seeing The Thermals, it makes perfect sense: The Thermals are every bit as devoted to having fun with the audience as their buddies from Brooklyn. In the same spirit as The Thermals’ albums, the band delivered a barrelling set, blazing through more songs than I could count. At the second song, Harris took off into the audience and continued banging out a pulse-pounding riff. He injected himself into the good-natured mosh (not the type in which people try to tear each other apart) a couple more times throughout the night. Drummer Westin Glass egged the audience on with claps and by raising his cheerful fists into the air. Not that the audience needed his encouragement, but it was just more fun to play along.

The Body, The Blood, The Machine was also three albums ago (with two before that) and the only Thermals album I really got time to know. So, walking into Fortune on Friday night was like walking into a reunion of someone else’s high school friends. It was a bit alienating with everyone having known the songs and in that way having known each other too. But even though I didn’t know all the songs, seeing people who did shout the lyrics at the tops of their lungs while bouncing into each other and toppling over the edge of the stage made me happy enough.

More ironic than the pairing of ‘Peace’ with war was that the band who sang about the inherent evils of humans were the ones who got the audience feeling good vibrations. Even though one audience member’s repeated request (and boy was it repeated) for “Power Doesn’t Run On Nothing” went unheeded, the smile across his and everyone else’s faces at the end of the night showed that when a band that’s already known for its high energy is promoting an album it specifically describe as fun, you better believe it’s more serious than war.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu