The Thermals explode with indie-nerd energy
CAMBRIDGE -- "We're professionals. We know exactly what we're doing," announced Hutch Harris as the Thermals took the stage at T.T. the Bear's Place on Saturday. He returned to that word -- "professional" -- time and again throughout the evening as a self-deprecating running joke. But while the sold-out, 75-minute set had its share of sloppiness, it only helped to boost the live-wire nerviness of the Portland, Ore., quartet, whose latest album, "The Body, the Blood, the Machine," was acclaimed as one of 2006's best.
With Harris as the frontman, an excess of indie-nerd energy was released right from the start. His adenoidal yelp was close kin to the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle's , and there were times when it sounded less like he was singing than pushing words out of his throat. He wielded his physical presence with the same nervous excitement, hacking at his guitar seemingly with his whole body on "St. Rosa and the Swallows" and gesturing madly during "A Pillar of Salt."
Guitarist Joel Burrows and drummer Lorin Coleman mostly stayed out of his way, though bassist Kathy Foster's springy curls offered some competition for the crowd's attention as they bounced cheerfully in front of her face while she nodded to the music. Harris's energy dipped somewhat around the halfway mark, but the band stayed strong through a number of loud-fast-rules songs like "Our Trip" and "Let Your Earth Quake, Baby."
Harris was energized once again by the time the band rounded the final stretch with the driving and tense "Power Doesn't Run on Nothing." Soon the crowd was jumping so madly that you could feel the floor bouncing. At times like that, the Thermals seemed not simply professional but bigger than the room.
Playing its penultimate Boston show before its planned breakup later this month (the last show is at the Middle East March 22), local act Read Yellow was a formidable undercard. With anguished screaming over frenzied drums and high-strung guitar-torture noise, it seemed to be as much of a draw for the audience as the headliners were. At one point, the band refused to continue if the two audience members onstage weren't joined by at least four more, and judging from the way the volunteers danced like crazy during a speedy and agitated cover of Joy Division's "Transmission," Read Yellow will be missed.