Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
Now We Can See
The Thermals, The Shaky Hands and Point Juncture WA at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangRare is the occasion that I head into a show with little knowledge of a band or their output – I’m all about the due diligence for my evening activities, yo – but that was the case when I hit the Horseshoe in October 2007 for the The Thermals’ Toronto debut in support of their superb The Body, The Blood, The Machine and though I went in curious, I came out converted. Put succinctly, they rocked my face off.
Their awesomeness was confirmed by their Hot Freaks showcase at SxSW in March and their just-released new record Now We Can See. Whereas Blood was overtly political, forged by the fires of outrage over the Iraq war and outrage over the ideologies behind it, See welcomes the Obama era with a sort of cautious optimism that’s more polished, compact and melodic – more pop, essentially. But that doesn’t make it soft – it’s still loud and nervy, Hutch Harris’ twisted holler still finding plenty in the world to rage against and about. It doesn’t pack the same gut punch or focus of intent that Blood did, but it’s hard to imagine them being able to tap into that same vein of inspiration again and not self-immolate.
Even so, I expected no shortage of righteous fury on Sunday night when the Thermals once again rolled into The Horseshoe for their second-ever Toronto appearance with a couple of fellow Portland acts in tow. The first, Point Juncture WA, seriously impressed. It’s unclear to me whether there actually exists a Point Juncture in the great state of Washington, but if there was and this four-piece’s music were an accurate representation, it’d be a town made up of a noisy/garage-rock residences alongside high-tech electronic industrial districts with a downtown filled with concert halls built on top of jazz clubs, and a population who, despite their disparate influences and interests, all come together to make beautiful pop music. There was no shortage of talent on display – multiple lead vocalists, superb musicianship and deceptively complex song structures – but all of it was in service to their hooky, dreamy pop tunes. And the brought a vibraphone with them on the road for just one part in one song. That’s either dedication or insanity, or probably both. Their new album is Heart To Elk – do investigate.
Middle act The Shaky Hands were somewhat disappointing conventional in comparison. College rock unafraid to let its roots show and with a whiff of jam-bandness about them, they reminded me of Blitzen Trapper but without the genre-hopping creative restlessness. By their set’s end I had come to appreciate them for what they were and not what they weren’t, but wasn’t especially disappointed to see them go. Their new album is Lunglight.
And for The Thermals, I really don’t want to use the word “disappointment” because it sounds overly and unnecessarily harsh, but relative to the two awesome performances they delivered the other two times I’d seen them, this one just paled. They got there and played hard – the sweat soaking Hutch Harris’ shirt by show’s end doesn’t lie – and sounded great, but there wasn’t the sense of glee that I’d basked in at the SxSW show in particular, where both Harris and bassist Kathy Foster were pogoing around the stage and leaping off of amps. Should those sorts of antics be expected nightly? I suppose not, because then it’d just be kind of contrived, but I couldn’t help feeling let down that they didn’t seem to be feeling it this night. But even a Thermals show running not quite full tilt is still a rock show and then some, and from the intensity and enthusiasm of the crowd, it was obvious my feelings were very much in the minority. Covering all albums in their repertoire, they barrelled through almost twenty songs in an hour and did it with aplomb and intensity. If the only complaint I can register is that Harris didn’t leap off of any equipment, then I should probably still file this one under the “W” column.
Photos: The Thermals, The Shaky Hands, Point Juncture, WA @ The Horseshoe – May 3, 2009
MP3: The Thermals – “When We Were Alive”
MP3: The Thermals – “Now We Can See”
MP3: The Thermals – “Here’s Your Future”
MP3: The Thermals – “Pillar Of Salt”
MP3: The Thermals – “A Stare Like Yours”
MP3: The Thermals – “How We Know”
MP3: The Thermals – “No Culture Icons”
MP3: The Shaky Hands – “We Are Young”
MP3: Point Juncture WA – “Sioux Arrow”
MP3: Point Juncture WA – “Kings Part II”
MP3: Point Juncture WA – “Sick On Sugar”
Video: The Thermals – “A Pillar Of Salt”
Video: The Thermals – “Returning To The Fold”
Video: The Thermals – “How We Know”
Video: The Thermals – “No Culture Icons”
Video: The Shaky Hands – “We Are Young”
MySpace: The Thermals
MySpace: Point Juncture WA
A bunch of rather high-profile (and high price bracket) shows announced yesterday. First, Sonic Youth will bring their latest album The Eternal, out June 9, to a rather unexpected venue – Massey Hall. They will play the hallowed hall on June 30 with tickets priced at $36.50, $43.50 and $48.50. A limited presale goes Thursday at noon via www.atgconcerts.com and public on-sale is Saturday, May 9, at 1PM.
This one I warned you about but it’s now official – Fleet Foxes at Massey Hall on August 4 with Swedes Dungen as support. Tickets for that will be $32.50, $35.50 and $39.50 and presales start at 10AM Wednesday (tomorrow) via www.atgconcerts.com and there’s another, same time, for “Friends Of Massey Hall”. Public on-sale is Friday at 3PM. You know, when I first heard about this band playing this venue, I thought there was no way they could sell it out. But after hearing how excited some people are for this show, I’m beginning to think that they will. And that’s just nuts.
Pearl Jam will be at the Molson Amphitheatre on August 21. Tickets range from $39.50 to $79.50 and go on sale Friday at 2PM.
And finally, Elvis Costello & The Sugarcanes – that’s the band he’s assembled for his forthcoming countrified album Secret, Profane And Sugarcane, out June 2 – will be at Massey Hall on August 28.