Of all the things I learned about rock and roll, the one lesson that has stuck out the most came from a side-scrolling computer game where you had to save the The Get-Up Kids from Enrique Iglesias: all bands either break up too soon or live long enough to start sucking. I’ve taken this to heart over the past decade and a half, always reminding myself whenever a band I like calls it quits. On April 9, however, one of my favorite bands announced they would be disbanding and it made me wonder if maybe there are exceptions to the rule.
I was introduced to The Thermals in the fall of 2006 via MTVU, a channel that apparently was only broadcast in dorm rooms. Their seminal album The Blood, The Body, The Machine had just been released and the video for the single “Pillar of Salt” was all over the channel. I immediately fell in love with the song. The energy, the straight 8ths guitar strums and the synth-sounding guitar riff was auditory cheesecake to my 18-year-old ears. Listening to that song for the first time was like listening to Pinkerton for the first time, it was something I had no idea I always wanted. I became obsessed with the album ever since.
The Thermals were a band that reminded me of everything I loved about making music. It’s impossible to sit through an entire song of theirs without getting a shit-eating grin. Every single Thermals song is reminiscent of getting together with your friends in a garage and playing as loud as your 10 watt amps will possibly let you. This has always been what separates bands I like from bands I love and The Thermals were so great at capturing that raw emotion of music making all within the span of two to three and a half minute songs. Their live show is a testament to that.
I was fortunate enough to see the band three times over a span of four years. They played a show at the late, great Red 7 in Austin in 2010, which is easily one of my top 5 concerts of all time. Between getting tossed around in the pit and being able to share my love for the band with total strangers, I lost my voice for a day that night. They even covered “My Name is Jonas” for the encore. My best friend in high school used to tell me that you know you’re experiencing something special when the band finishes their set and looks like they had their soul sucked out of them. The Thermals looked like that this night, they left their heart and soul all over that outdoor stage, and yet when all was said and done, they looked like they could’ve gone all night.
The last time I saw The Thermals live was at SXSW 2013 at the Mohawk. As the Hutch started playing the intro to “Here’s Your Future,” Westin stepped from behind the drums and jumped into the crowd and got everybody to start dancing. He continued to do so until right before the drums kicked in and played the rest of the song. Later on in the set, Hutch jumped into the crowd, himself, playing in the middle of the pit like it was some kinda basement show. I have yet to have as much fun at SXSW as I did that day. While I usually get wound up when a band I like breaks up and I regret not going to see them the last time they came through town, I didn’t feel this way Monday afternoon. The last time I saw them and the time before that were some of my favorite concert-going experiences and to have that be my last live experience with them only feels appropriate.
My cover band once attempted to cover “My Little Machine” off of More Parts per Million and triumphantly failed to capture the rawness and energy. The album screams DIY recording, and yet is still unbelievably difficult to emulate. I introduced The Body, The Blood, The Machine to my best friend and we’ve made valiant attempts to record our own version of “Here’s Your Future” to mild success. She showed her God-fearing mother the album and she loves it, though there’s a good chance, she may have misinterpreted the concept of the album. While I stand behind the notion that its their best album, my favorite Thermals song is “Stare Like Yours,” off of Fuckin’ A. It’s a perfect melody and has a hook that is deceptive as it is catchy. The entire song feels like driving on empty without a care in the world. The quiver in Hutch’s voice, Kathy’s driving bass line, the abrupt halt to end the song – if I ever get married, this will easily be my wedding song and hopefully I can reunite the band to play it.
It goes without saying The Thermals didn’t live long enough to start sucking and 15 years of not sucking is pretty damn impressive. While there were signs that the band was nearing its end – their last album was titled We Disappear, they stopped touring over the last couple of years – the news of their breakup still came as a shock. Whether the trio reunites down the line in the future at some semi-popular, underrated festival (my money is on either Wrecking Ball or Fest), or they never so much as play a Thermals song ever again; the band has become engrained in so many memories of my young adult life that they will live on forever.