Some time (usually around age 15) kids stop thinking that the opening bands are ever going to be good. Audiences think they’ve figured it all out; that the opening bands (The A-Sides, The Big Sleep) exist to torture whatever crowd has gathered for the headliner (The Thermals) into freaking the hell out when they finally take the stage. And that’s what happened.Except it shouldn’t have.
The crowd was diverse, though slightly younger on average than expected, and slow to fill the pit. Ages ranged from younger brothers out past their bedtimes, to bubblegum chewing grade-schoolers with their parents and the parents of the bands. A couple members of the A-Sides, including the drummer (Patrick) started out in the crowd, moving backstage just moments before the show was to begin.
The five-piece A-Sides, who played the basement show right before jetting off to their SXSW engagement, started off with a slightly unexpected sincerity in their indie-pop melody. They had a pretty danceable set, but failed to excite the crowd.
After a brief, optimistic weather report (“It’s going to be 65 next Wednesday, keep your head up.”) from the lead singer, they pushed through the rest of their six-song set, from the that-song-I-heard on-Y-Rock “Cinematic” to the slow-dance “Diamonds,” then started packing up their gear to mild applause, despite being the new up and coming Philly band.
After the flash of a full set change, and the set-up of dramatic home-brew lighting, The Big Sleep suffered from mixing that only a mother could love. Sitting to the side of the stage offered aural glimpses of the monitors; the vocals were slightly better than barely audible over their post-punk cacophony. It seemed like someone was trying to not do them justice.
Pulling out rock-anthems like “Brown Beauty” and “Murder,” The Big Sleep was easily the most intense band of the night, and coupled with the dramatic lighting, made for the most ominous set as well. The powerful tribal drum-busting beat, synthesized melodies, and their fondness of feedback were telling of their classic rock and punk influences.
Despite the sound quality, the threesome from Brooklyn still felt out of place in front of the sea of still people; their music begged for a club with hundreds of sweating gyrating bodies. Even a dozen kids swaying back and forth would have made all the difference.
Towards the end of the set the hesitant cry of, “Danny! Danny! You’re so pretty!” emerges from the mouth of a mop-headed college hipster standing ever so slouched next to me. Laughter and conversations began to emerge like zits and The Big Sleep just wasn’t packing enough Clearasil for the crowd.
The Thermals, after The Big Sleep, looked washed out due to the standard (and now, sub-par) stage lighting. The guitarist took the stage on crutches, and transferred to a barstool. Hundreds of digital pocket cameras started flashing at the same time.
The Portland pop-punk foursome started with the “Hey, wtf, we’re in a church! Better clean it up.” They were clearly more comfortable conversing with the crowd than the other bands had been, and hoped that it would translate into a more exciting stage presence. Unfortunately, all the dancing and rocking was less sincere than the A-Sides, and not as intense as The Big Sleep.
The singer spat out quips between their fast and loud clusters of songs, played 3 or 4 at a time, nearly seamlessly. “Alright, thank you very much.” As if embarrassed, he whispered to the crowd, “We’re from Oregon. We’re polite there.” Makes one wonder how many fans were listening to him and not just snapping a few dozen pictures.
Taking pictures, not dancing, was still the crowdsâ€šÃ„Ã´ main activity for a good 25 minutes into the set. The Thermals finally moved the crowd to dance on ‘Pillar of Salt,’ the last number of the night, but dropped the second the song was over, without an encore. The lights went on and house music started playing again. Audience members looked shocked at what it had done (dancing? Gasp!!), though they alone had power to make or break the night.
They broke it.