What: The Thermals
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bluebird Theater, 3317 E Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-377-1666
More info: bluebirdtheater.net
With The Thermals' latest record, Desperate Ground, the poppy, grungy rock trio is violently shaking off old labels.
The decade-old Portland trio is most notable for insanely catchy songs and punkish attitude. Even the trajectory of the band's success followed '80s indie rock model -- doing it themselves, doing it cheap, sticking to their beliefs with a "fuck everything else" attitude. It's those beliefs, jumping out among the fuzzy riffs and thrashing rhythms that got The Thermals pegged as a political band.
They're not interested in that.
"We don't really care about being highbrow," drummer Westin Glass said. "We don't wanna, like, pound it into your head or smash it in people's faces, you know? That's just such a cliche."
Desperate Ground makes that pretty damn clear. It's about war and violence, but not politicized. Instead, it's cinematic. Dramatic. "Each night I dream of a war / Each one greater than the one before / A cold dark close, it hangs above / I have to leave, to save you, my love," Hutch Harris sings on "I Go Alone."
Action movies provided plenty of inspiration for the epic, yet garage-bound songs. Glass offered "Full Metal Jacket," "Die Hard" and "Rambo" as big examples.
"We just wanted to create a piece of entertainment, above all else," he said. "Something that would just be really fun and enjoyable to listen to, even though it deals with dark themes."
Glass said the band wanted to avoid "wagging the finger," but that doesn't mean the record is totally devoid of a point. The lyrics Harris wrote were meant to be "really general," so anyone could identify.
"He was just trying to write lyrics that could apply to anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time in human history," Glass said. "The fact is that people have been killing each other for as long as we've been on earth and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon ... It's so common. We see it on movies and on TV and we don't think about it."
"That's what's really good about getting inside the mind of a character, and he's presenting all this stuff -- it's not to make a point, exactly. It's to explore the consciousness of a person who's on a warpath and what it's like inside their minds."
The balance The Thermals created, between the heightened emotions of a war narrative and the grungy simplicity of their brand of rock, is resonating particularly well with fans.
"The response to these songs live has been great. People really love it and they're going just as wild in the crowd for these new songs as the older ones that we're playing," Glass said.
That's no small accomplishment for an indie rock outfit that's been around for 10 years. The fact is The Thermals just haven't seemed to get tired. They're still charging into every record and every show like a battle.