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all photos: Julia Benton

At this point, you know what you’re going to get at a Thermals show. Five albums into their career, the Portland trio has evolved from a scrappy lo-fi outfit that recorded an album for $60 to a pop-punk powerhouse.

Don’t worry though, the band is not going the way of Teddy Punk Star anytime soon. They’re still churning out some of the best 180 second songs you can buy. And some of the smartest, too. In a year of Big Statement Records (read: The Suburbs, The Monitor), The Thermals quietly released one of their own: Personal Life. As you would expect, Personal Life tackles the relationship — particularly love and deception. But records with an overarching theme aren’t new for the band. 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine tread a fine line between blasting the Bush-Cheney axis and Christofacism while 2009’s Now We Can See found the band trying out power-pop and wrote a concise record about life and death.

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On record The Thermals might be tackling large themes in 45 minutes or less, but live the band falls into the plug-in and play category. Greeting fans shortly after 11 p.m., The Thermals blasted through everything you probably wanted to hear and then some during their hour and a half set. Grabbing the better tracks from across their discography — “Here’s Your Future”, “No Culture Icons” and “Now We Can See” — as well a handful of songs from Personal Life (mostly the faster numbers), The Thermals turned a largely unenthusiastic crowd for the majority of the night into a sweaty mass of people ready to raise their fists and voices.

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It was mostly business Friday night. There was little talk other than the occasional “we’re so glad to be here” or “thank you”, but Hutch Harris and company were all smiles. But the largest ear-to-ear grins came during the encore when the band closed out the night with a near-perfect rendition of Weezer’s “My Name Is Jonas”. You can’t follow a song like that so they left after giving the people up front some high-fives, which is fine, but a little Fuckin’ A would have been great too.

Staten Island’s Cymbals Eat Guitars are, more or less, the same band I’ve seen three times now. Aping pretty much every famous indie band from the 90s (not a bad thing), the quartet ran through the high points of 2009’s Why There Are Mountains and a handful of new tracks (that sound pretty great, by the way) in 45-minutes while destroying ear drums with their wall of sound aesthetic. Dumbly, I forgot my ear plugs so I my ears were bleeding after a few tracks but it was worth it to hear the new cuts which have the band playing with more subtle sounds rather than the LOUD-quiet-LOUD format.

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Opening the show was Ireland’s So Cow. I’ve become smitten with the trio’s work since discovering the band’s self-titled record last year and have thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Meaningless Friendly, but this show had its fair share of highs and lows. Show closer “Casablanca” makes for a good entry point into the band and soared live, but the mix was particularly rough that pushed Brian Kelly’s vocals behind the instruments, taking away the wit that makes turns So Cow from just another band to something better. The set was brief, but so are the songs which had the audience captivated, but confused once one ended. People were obviously there to see The Thermals and Cymbals Eat Guitars, but if you got their early you got to see a band that’s on a rise and shouldn’t be missed next time they’re in town.

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The Thermals Setlist @ The Black Cat:
Here’s Your Future / I Might Need You To Kill / There’s Nothing You Can’t Learn / I Don’t Believe You / We Were Sick / It’s Trivia / When We Were Alive / Never Listen To Me / Not Like Any Other Feeling / No Culture Icons / How We Know / Power Lies / Returning To The Fold / St. Rosa And The Swallows / Only For You / Your Love Is So Strong / Back To Gray / When I Was Afraid / Now We Can See / A Pillar Of Salt // Power Doesn’t Run On Nothing / My Name Is Jonas (Weezer)

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