When Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster of The Thermals say they’re glad to be in Cleveland, they honestly, and truly mean it. It’s not the perfunctory, “It’s great to be in [Insert name of your town here] tonight,” the type of thing you say to every town on tour. No, Harris has gone on record in interviews saying how nuts the folks in Cleveland go for his band. Consequently, from the first jagged chord of “Returning to the Fold,” from 2006’s The Body, The Blood, and The Machine, Harris and Foster were all smiles. When some stray beer made its way on stage during “How We Know,” a cut from the band’s most recent album, Now We Can See, he didn’t use it as an opportunity to lecture the crowd, or throw a fit. Instead, he asked “If you’re gonna throw beer, aim here,” pointing to his open mouth.

Like any good power pop/punk band, The Thermals know it’s not how many chords you can play, but how you use them. And The Thermals use them quite well. Harris, in his decidedly out of style rugby shirt, hit each chord with force and cleanly enunciated each word in his half talking, half singing voice. While Foster, on the opposite end of the stage was an endless source of energy, pogoing and head-banging, her tight, curly afro bouncing in rhythm with the drummer, all but covering that wide smile of hers. When they got to rapid, almost rapturous, “A Pillar of Salt,” the front stage crowd exploded in a fury of pogo dancing and fist pumping and crowd surfing. Yes, crowd surfing. It was like a ’90s revival out there.

While the biggest reactions of the night were saved for “Pillar of Salt,” “St Rosa and the Swallows” and “Here’s Your Future,” all from The Body, The Blood, and The Machine, the new material was also quite well. It was during “We Dissolve,” that the crowd surfing began to spill on to the stage, prompting Harris to quip, “Love the ’90s, love the crowd surfing, but send ’em back. We’re trying to get drunk up here.” Harris wasn’t the only one enjoying the care-free, ’90s vibe of the night. At one point, a gentleman old enough to be your dad, and maybe old enough to be my dad, too, found himself hoisted upon the arms of the crowd. Don’t worry, he made it safely to the ground and was able to catch the encore consisting of Nirvana’s “Verse Chorus Verse,” and The Breeders’ “Saints.” All of a sudden, the crowd surfing and pogo dancing didn’t seem nearly as out of place. Escapism worked pretty well 15 years ago when things were relatively good, why can’t it work now while we’re in the middle of some serious economic sh*t?

(Mostly Complete) Set List

1. Returning to the Fold
2. I Let it Go
3. How We Know
4. I Called Your Name
5. A Passing Feeling
6. Back to Gray
7. When I Was Afraid
8. A Pillar of Salt
9. Test Pattern

[I was off doing other things and missed a song, or two, or three]

13. St Rosa and The Swallows
14. You Dissolve
15. Now We Can See
16. Here’s Your Future
17. At the Bottom of the Sea
18. No Culture Icons
19. Goddamn the Light
20, Everything Thermals
21. It’s Trivia


22. Verse Chorus Verse (Nirvana cover)
23. Saints (Breeders cover)

Los Angles, new-wave crooner, Jeremy Jay found himself in the unenviable position of playing in the adjoining room on a night when one of Cleveland’s favorite bands were in the Ballroom. To his credit, he didn’t seem to be bothered by the mostly empty room. He simply did his thing. Dressed in thrifty chic — striped polo, tightly fitting dress pants, white socks, and loafers — he looked and sang like an idealistic dreamer, soured by love, but resigned to surviving. Staring out at the room, tapping his left foot for rhythm, he gracefully sang “In This Lonely Town,” “Breaking the Ice,” and “Gallop” from his latest release, the aptly named Slow Dance. Nearly all those I spoke to after Jay’s performance were impressed by his set. It’s a shame so few were there to see it.