Noise Pop 2013: The Thermals and Dirty Ghosts at Rickshaw Stop, Bender’s happy hour

Pub date March 4, 2013
WriterEmily Savage

I first learned of the Thermals in 2005 from the DVD series, Burn to Shine, in which bands play a house that’s set to be demolished. In an unlucky Portland, Oreg. home, the pop punk trio – by then together for just under three years – bounding with energy, played exclusive single “Welcome to the Planet.” That particular Burn to Shine installment also featured live, untouched performances by Sleater-Kinney, Mirah, the Decemberists, and the Gossip. A basic slice of life in Portland that year, all under one soon-to-be-gone roof.

Friday’s Noise Pop show at the Rickshaw Stop celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Thermals’ very first album, More Parts Per Million (2003, Sub Pop). And while it’s now all these years later, and the band has since released a decade’s worth of records building to 2013’s Desperate Ground, the Thermals have maintained a joyful, power-pop exuberance and nasally shine. The Rickshaw crowd pogo’d off its feet to every song, nearly in unison, matching the excitement of the band on stage, even causing a brief kerfuffle near the end.

“This week is the 10th anniversary of our first record,” said lead singer-guitarist Hutch Harris, “I hope you like it because we’re going to play most of it.”

And the sold-out room did enjoy it. Despite the band’s relative longevity, the audience seemed mostly on the younger side; I’d guess at least half were under 21, and spotted those inked giant Xs on many a pumping fist (maybe they were just straight-edge? Do kids still do that?). That could also be due to the fact that the show was 18 and over, and the Rickshaw generally attracts a younger set.

The show opened with experimental San Francisco pop trio Ev Kain, which had a confusing, dense sound peppered with echoing duel vocal harmonies, expert, off-time drumming, angular guitars, and upbeat ska melodies. At different points, it was reminiscent of the early aughts math-rock and dance punk explosions, a welcome change from standard SF garage acts, at other moments the roaring lead vocals were distracting from the drumming (though I always am drawn to a drummer who sings). I overheard comparisons to both Radio 4 and Fishbone thrown out among the attendees up on balcony. See? Confusing.

All-teenage, all-girl beach pop group the She’s (ahem, our recent cover stars for the On the Rise issue) followed and impressed with those breezy harmonies and technical skills. The quartet opened with “Picture of Houses,” in which three of the four harmonize, “picture of houses in my life/grey skies and warm sand/it’s al-ri-ght” – that last “it’s alright” being repeated in a dreamy Beach Boys ode.

Pretty much everyone around me was smiling during the She’s set, especially when lead singer-guitarist Hannah Valente dedicated a song to her dad, saying “Happy birthday, dad!” before launching into a brand new track.

Next up, Dirty Ghosts brought out the Flying “V” guitars and classic, hard-hitting rock’n’roll. The band, another trio from San Francisco, seems to be getting tighter and brighter every year – perhaps it has just been too long since I’ve seen them live. They blew my mind like it was the first time.

Led by the hair-shaking guitarist Allyson Baker and bassist Erin McDermott (who sported a beer tap strap and a Faith No More shirt), Dirty Ghosts played songs off last year’s Metal Moon, and seven-inch “Katana Rock/Eyes of a Stranger” (2012). They killed with “Eyes of a Stranger,” which, as they noted, is in the classic 1980s film, Valley Girl (a.k.a my all-time favorite movie), and also with gritty single “Ropes that Way,” during which Baker and McDermott walked toward each other and did that noodling rock star move they’re so good at.

An audience interaction I dug during the set: whenever Baker mentioned Canada, or talked at all really, a smaller cluster of ladies near me screamed, whooped, danced, and repeatedly called back to the stage banter (old friends from Baker’s native land of Toronto?). Either way, they were feeling it, and it was contagious.

The next day, I stopped by Noise Pop’s free happy hour show at Bender’s and caught the awesomely hard, deep-fried Southern ’70s rock’n’roll act Wild Eyes SF  (with electric singer-tambourine shaker Janiece Gonzalez wearing an American flag denim vest, naturally, and drummer Ben Richardson, who, full disclosure, is a sometimes Guardian contributer), along with “[Black] Sabbath-worshiping” rock band Owl, and some delicious deep-fried tater tots dipped in ketchup. The greasy daytime show, packed with tall dudes with long hair and black shirts, was the perfect antidote to the poppy preceding night, and ended my Noise Pop 2013 week with a bang and a belly ache.
(Video shot by Guardian arts editor Cheryl Eddy)