While Sunday night rock shows can sometimes be a bummer, the atmosphere at The Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge, MA on April 18th was one of anticipation. Before the first of the night’s 3 bands had taken the stage, fans were already claiming their spots up front to assure a good view of headliners The Thermals.
Each member of Atlanta, Georgia’s The Coathangers sported a fake mustache as they kicked off their set with “Haterade” from their 2007 self-titled debut. The first few songs were a little rough but, luckily, the band’s catchy, in-your-face indie punk was in full-swing by the third song. They powered their way through “Killdozer” and “Gettin’ Mad and Pumpin’ Iron” from 2009′s Scramble and even sped up a version of their mid-tempo ballad “Dreamboat” so that it sounded like a 1960s girl-group tune on steroids. Since this was my second time seeing The Coathangers (and my second time reviewing them for this blog), I was eagerly anticipating the intensity that The Coathangers’ live show delivers. The band did not disappoint: They threw all of their energy into every song, so much so that when guitarist Julia Kugel took her turn behind the drum kit, she hit a cymbal so hard that it fell off it’s stand. She collected the cymbal from her lap with one hand and tossed it out of the way, literally, without missing a single beat. The Thermals bassist Kathy Foster, mustached of course, joined the band onstage for their last song, fan favorite “Don’t Touch My Shit.”
The Coathangers were followed by Suicide Squeeze label mates Past Lives, who in solidarity with The Coathangers, kept the ‘stache theme going. Past Lives were magnetic. From the first drum roll, they captivated the audience. Much of the magnetism was due to the stage presence of vocalist Jordan Blilie. Having spent 10 years as a vocalists in legendary band The Blood Brothers, Blilie’s mastered the art of making the theatrical seem natural. With dueling guitars, drums and vocals, Past Lives sound is complex, sitting somewhere between art-punk, noise and indie rock. The band played through material from their debut full-length Tapestry of Webs, released in February of 2010, including standout track “Paralyzer.”
Fresh of their first tour of China, The Thermals opened their set with the title track from 2009’s Now We Can See. Their set covered their entire catalog, from “No Culture Icons” from their 2003 debut More Parts Per Million to “Separate,” a track off of the split 7″ the band released with the UK’s The Cribs this past Saturday as part of Record Store Day. The tightly-packed crowd was clearly enjoying themselves, singing and clapping along and pumping their fists in the air. The songs that seemed to get the biggest crowd reaction were those from The Thermals 2006 release The Body, The Blood, The Machine, a concept album that tells the story of a young couple fleeing a pseudo-religious, fascist government. While some bands just go through the motions on tour, The Thermals really seem emotionally invested in their songs both live and on record.
The band played a handful of new songs which will hopefully be making an appearance on their upcoming fifth album. They are again working with Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie, who mixed their 2004 sub pop album Fuckin’ A. If these new songs are any indication of the record as a whole, I think it’s safe to say that I was right in including The Thermal’s upcoming September 2010 release on my list of the most anticipated punk albums of 2010. The band closed out their set with “Returning To The Fold.”
While it was great to see 3 talented bands perform, the best part of the show by far was watching 3 talented bands support each other. When not onstage, band members were visibly cheering on their tour mates from the side of the stage. Awwww.
More pics from the show below!