This Little Underground: Music vs. SeaWorld, the Thermals 

Our music columnist also covers a special Record Club meeting, Guardian Alien, Black Tide, Beach Day and Good Graeff

The music world officially joins the protest against SeaWorld as the parade of performer cancellations continues for what little’s left of the Bands, Brew and BBQ concert series (See “The Blackfish Effect” in Happytown). Time to seriously rethink Shamu, SeaWorld.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of landmark albums from the class of 1989, a Record Club will hold a special New Year’s Day edition (6-11 p.m. Jan. 1, Lil Indies) of its monthly listening/discussion gathering to cover five classics (Rhythm Nation, 3 Feet High and Rising, Bleach, Paul’s Boutique and Pretty Hate Machine).

And finally, the wait is over, mental patients. Next column (Jan. 1) presents the annual Undie awards!

The Beat

I don’t know what it is about stylistically diverse bills that seems to throw people off like some sort of Jedi mind-scramble shit, but you guys missed a pretty special one by Norse Korea co-headlined by Pontiak and Guardian Alien (Dec. 8, Will’s Pub). The two bands are Thrill Jockey label-mates touring together despite little stylistic common ground, none of which should matter when both are this good.

Virginia’s Pontiak, whose slab riffage is much more my jam, laid their rock heaviness down nice and thick. But NYC experimentalists Guardian Alien, who seemed more collected and concentrated this time than at their March performance here, delivered the knockout of the night with a mobbing set of primordial hive-rock.

The ride of their show is so twisting and dizzying that it should require seatbelts. But they could easily recede into the nebulous murk that often marks experimental music were it not for bandleader Greg Fox, whose command and unorthodox order anchor everything. The man’s drumming is just titanic. His often massive sounds are powerful, dense and perpetually busy with builds that tingle the scalp and move the Earth. With unpredictable patterns but a tangible groove, Fox packs the lock step of a studied drummer with the sheer visceral excitement of Lightning Bolt. Although underground, he is one of the most stunning and interesting drummers working today. And when he’s surrounded by his bandmates’ high-flying swarm of noise and drone, well, it’s some storm.


Click to see more photos of the Thermals, Beach Day and Good Graeff

The Thermals (Dec. 9, the Social) were, as always, the Thermals. And that’s a good thing. Even if their new album is the rare disappointment, they’re still great live. Their minimal setup at maximum pitch is still as effective as ever and one of the most dialed-in formulas around. And powered by Hutch Harris’ distinctive and rousing John Darnielle-on-fire expression, they can still throw gasoline on a crowd like few can.

Their support was wholly Floridian, the most credentialed being South Florida’s Beach Day. Beach Day’s songwriting hasn’t exactly proven eternal, even to me, who was very much behind them early on. But seeing them perform again was a reminder that Kimmy Drake’s ’60s cherry-bomb voice is still something special. But they’re young and, despite already being on the national stage, are really just starting. It’s quite possible that their plan includes evolving. I hope so because there’s still a good deal here to work with. Their best songs are still anthems. And if they can keep those, deepen their sound and develop their playing, they’ll have staying power.

Also opening was Sarasota’s Good Graeff, a likeable twin-sister powered act that would appeal to Tegan & Sara fans with their marketably fresh faces and folk-pop crispness.

Later that night (Will’s Pub), I walked in on locals Sons of Ragnar, who bill themselves as a Viking metal band but whose painted faces and pencil necks were more Renaissance faire than Amon Amarth (coming Jan. 27, House of Blues).

But I was there to check up on Miami’s Black Tide since I was one of the music journalists to write about them early on, dating back to 2005 when they rocked the Florida Music Festival as teenage metal phenoms. Since then, they gained major-label status but lost the novelty of youth. Unfortunately, this show – often clouded with the commercial stink of modern heavy-rock stripes both passé and dubious – proved that they’ve lost much more than that. Like child actors in transition, they need to regroup and find their core. Unless, of course, this is really where they want to be, which is an entirely different conversation altogether.

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