The Thermals Concert Review – 01.13.05 in San Francisco

To close out my two-week excursion in San Francisco, my friend Arthur recommended we go check out the Thermals, a punk/rock (as opposed to a punk-rock) trio based out of Seattle. What I had heard from them, I liked. They reminded me of the Unicorns, but without keyboards, though that isn’t the most accurate description.

Café Du Nord is a great venue to catch a band. It’s Comfortably small with plenty of sight lines great lighting. Three days earlier I caught Xiu Xiu there and it was fantastic, although people wouldn’t shut the f*ck up. We started talking to a couple of Stanford girls (the brunette was pre-med, while the blond was pre-law) who thought it would be quaint to spend the night in the heart of the gay district. I only thought that was an East Coast thing. They were an entertaining distraction, despite being pretty vapid. I criticized the opening act, which as it turns out, the blond one really liked. There goes that.

When the Thermals got on stage, the general malaise that penetrated the audience dissipated immediately. I was struck by how normal they looked. Just a couple of T-shirt and jeans guys (and one girl) stood in front of me. If we were playing celebrity look alike, then the bassist looked like Kimya Dawson, especially with the frizzed out hair do. But ultimately, that wouldn’t be applicable, because Kimya Dawson isn’t a celebrity.

Perhaps it was the all-ages crowd (though they still served drinks), but there was an undeniable energy to the proceedings. There was some serious pogoing going on in the front, always a good sign. Arthur gave me the nod, and I knew what he meant. We made our way towards the commotion and interjected ourselves rather forcefully. That’s all that was needed. A full on pit broke out, much to the delight of those in the circle and to the chagrin of everyone outside of it. For the record, I totally embrace the hypocrisy that allows me to jump around and potentially ruin someone else’s night for the sake of “fun,” while getting a little more than pturbed when someone next to me does so much as talk if I am trying to pay attention to a band.

There are several rules to being in a pit. Like all social norms or mores, there are unspoken and have changed throughout time. If you have been in a pit more than once, than you know these rules already. They are all rooted in common sense but it never hurts to put them to paper. All of these apply unless you are at a hardcore show, in which case all rules these rules go out the f*cking window.

For starters, don’t rip anyone’s clothes. Second, save your complicated dance moves for your bedroom; get in, jump around, and push. It’s not complicated. This dance shit is how people get hurt in the first place. If someone is being especially violent for no particular reason, you have every right to punch them in the back of the head as hard as humanly possible. When the idiot turns around, the person behind him will punch him as well. It just happens.

If someone has to drop to the ground for any reason (tying shoe, dropped their glasses) and you are in the vicinity, it is your duty to stand over them and extend you arms over him/her. Those around him/her will, in effect, create a halo, that will protect for those precious seconds. And anyone who has been on their back in the middle of a pit will tell you, a second feels like a lifetime.

Surprisingly, the club was prepared, as they had a couple of “lifeguards” on the outskirts of the pit. Their job is pretty similar to their description; if someone falls down, they pick them up. If someone can’t handle it, they pull them out. If someone gets too rowdy, they pull them out. The last two weren’t necessary, though, as it was pretty tame on the whole.

The bouncers play an integral role in how much fun the crowd can have. If they are too authoritative, people are too quiet or (worse) they get into fights with them, creating a shitstorm of a mess. One looked like a fat Dave Dramain (sans the metal tusks sticking out of his lip) and he began dancing with crowd. He mixed it up a bit with one guy in particular, and promptly put him in his place. Definitely enjoyable to watch.

The beer was flowing, figuratively and literally, as people were throwing drinks at the front of the stage. My shoes have no tread whatsoever (six bucks at the local Goodwill) so smooth, damp surfaces weren’t embraced by yours truly. One excursion into the pit involved me slipping forward, face first onto another patron’s shoulder. This nice gentleman greeted me with an elbow into the side of my head. There ended my night of “dancing.”

The Thermals kept it light and punchy throughout. They must have played 16-18 songs, seriously. But with the average song lasting less than two and one half, it went by in a blur. We whisked out of Café Du Nord feeling like we did eight or nine years ago; completely depleted but energized all at the same time. At the end of the night, I sat waiting for the BART night owl, rubbing my right ear, and thinking about how I was going to write about a great show without experiencing the music.