Photo credit (The Thermals, Point Juncture): Greg Szeto
Photo credit (The Shaky Hands): Shantel Mitchell
MP3: The Thermals – When I Was Afraid from Now We Can See (2009)
MP3: The Shaky Hands – Whales Sing from The Shaky Hands (2006)
MP3: The Shaky Hands – We Are Young from Lunglight (2008)
MP3: Point Juncture, WA – Sioux Arrow from Heart to Elk (2008)
The modestly-filled Black Cat enjoyed a good-to-great Wednesday night of rock from three Portland exports. Point Juncture, WA opened the night with lushly arranged melodies, hovering all around the stylistic spectrum, ably switching from chill-out 90′s jam to jangle-pop and myriad other sounds. Great energy, and impressive display of musical chairs with people switching instruments like they had a habit.
According to Skyler from Point Juncture, The Shaky Hands were one of Portland’s best kept secrets up until recently; and it was easy to see why. Their brand of early pop rock calls forth equal parts from innumerable legends of the 60′s rock era, from the Beach Boys to the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion. Their sound features significant jitter and jangle, often yielding breezy, yet muscular surf-rock songs. They had probably the best stage presence of the night, combining a completely disarming classic rock aesthetic with high-energy, insistent music. The bass lines were unrelenting, the drums driving and the guitar lines rained down riffs like glorious sheets of springtime rain. An immensely enjoyable set that ran like clockwork.
The Thermals have clearly amassed a rabid DC following. The familiarity of the crowd with their catalog was impressive, to say the least, as the often reserved DC set were dead set on drowning out Hutch and Kathy with supporting vocals. Now I will readily admit, if you have no connection to their songs or lyrics, you may have a hard time at a Thermals show. Their brand of pop-punk is founded on being relentless, high-energy; and the common criticism, that many songs do in fact “sound the same” does have some basis (like much pop, they often use the same chord progression). You need that extra bit of investment to fully enjoy their music, and the emotional catharsis they so amply supply. Because they’re not a group overly concerned with technicalities, rather expertly crafting moods through a synergy of words and music, the feeling you get when their infectious musical optimism warms you from within as their lyrics, in Harris’ speak-sung, punk-inspired vocals, drench you from without like a battering, cold and bittersweet rain.
They opened strong with the polemic anthem “Returning to the Fold,” filled with fire and verve and truly encapsulating their approach to music, and perfect for revving the crowd’s karoake engine. Thankfully their latest album, Now We Can See, has added a bit of diversity in pacing of their set, anchoring a much-needed mid-set break after the exhausting “Pillar of Salt” with “When We Were Afraid,” “We Were Sick,” and “Test Pattern.” We were treated to a new cut, another slower burner called “Can’t Let Go” that harkens back to their Hutch and Kathy material. Even more variety was found in the form of their tasteful covers (remember their fantastic cover of Built To Spill’s “Big Dipper”?) of Nirvana (“Sappy”) and the Breeders (“Saints”). Other highlights included a typically incendiary rendition of “Here’s Your Future” and a one-two set closer of early gems “Goddamn the Light” and “No Culture Icons.” The band was tight from start to finish, but could’ve used a bit more help from the soundboard in fleshing out Harris’ vocals and guitar solos which were particularly difficult to discern on “We Were Sick” and “I Let It Go.”
New drummer Westin Glass deserves a special mention, as his boyish exuberance really elevated The Thermals’ stage antics, typically reserved to Kathy Foster’s endearingly giddy head-bobbing and Hutch Harris’ fantastically intense facial expressions. Theirs is a refreshing and different type of showmanship, built on earnestness , lack of pretense or artifice, and genuine belief in everything in their music. What you’re left with is a show that is as minimal and stripped as their music can be, devoid of grand-standing, posturing or preening. Just jamming out the tunes with as much intensity and energy as you can muster. This, The Thermals do without fail.
The Shaky Hands
Point Juncture, WA
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