thermsA very tall handsome fellow approached me. I could tell he wasn't Swedish because he actually spoke to me. "We came here all the way from Germany to see the Thermals!" he said. "I have seen them maybe like five times!" I told him I was from Portland and he got all wide-eyed. "Did you ever run into this Stephen Malkmus walking around on the streets, for example?" He and his buddy had flown to Stockholm just for the show, and already had tix to see the Thermals again in Cologne on the 19th.

They were even more excited about the show than I was, and I had been in self-imposed rock exile for almost two months! What with night falling at 2:30 pm, recent days have seen a lot of sitting around sipping glogg and lighting candles. The urge to hibernate is fierce. But sometimes you just have to cut loose. So, in a fit of homesickness, I crept out Thursday night to my second-favorite rock club in Stockholm. It used to be a liquor store: There are pix of Howlin' Pelle and the Raveonettes on the walls. When I arrived, the openers, DAP (Destroy All Planets), were on their last song. The drummer was wearing a Tragedy t-shirt, but I got there too late to tell if they were any good. When they finished, I bought myself a $7 Swedish lager and waited for the rock.

Eventually the curtains opened, revealing that the Thermals are a four-piece again, with Joel Burrows on guitar. They sounded AWESOME. Clean in all the right places, but plenty loud and dirty where it counts. Somebody somewhere compared them to the Alkaline Trio, which is unfair but makes a small amount of sense; the Thermals aren't squishy and weepy like that, but their songs are really pretty, despite totally rocking. Not that Sweden noticed. For half the set, no one moved at all. Vocalist Hutch Harris' eyebrows outdanced everyone in the audience.

Fact: Sweden will NEVER be saved by rock and roll! It's a lost cause. Rock and roll tries its hardest, but Sweden remains aloof. I have seen it many times, and it happened again last Thursday. The Thermals kicked so much ass and had so much fun, and Sweden stood around like a small army of Kirsten Dunst blowup dolls, looking cold, scandalized and frightened of anyone moving. Never again will I complain about the deadness of a Portland crowd. I PROMISE.

Luckily, the statuesque-ness of the crowd did not ruin the show—mainly thanks to those German guys. Pretty early on, they started to twitch, and their dancing escalated from there. They hugged while pogoing! Not easy. After a while one Swedish guy started jogging in place near them, and it was officially a three-man dance-off. One of the Germans pulled me in for a while, but the jogger-in-place was a difficult obstacle. A ring of frosty Stockholmers surrounded the dancers, looking nervous. Cartoon thought-bubbles over their heads said, "Why can't these people stand still and behave?" But the Germans kept on dancing, and the other guy kept on jogging in place. When the Thermals ended with "No Culture Icons," the only punk-looking girl in the room finally moved her feet. Yeah! Partial victory. Or maybe she was German too.

"I've never seen a crowd like this," said the handsome guy from Cologne, distraught. But the band didn't seem to mind—they were doing jumping jacks, the almost-splits and rock poses of all types. They couldn't have stood still if you stapled their feet down. It's possible they could only see the three dancing guys up front. I talked to drummer Lorin Coleman after the show, and he said the band was psyched that people showed up at all; it was their first time in Stockholm, and at 10 pm there'd been nobody there. Better a crowd of statues than an empty room, I guess. But still—I fear for this land. Didn't the Swedes used to pillage monasteries and go berserk on foreign coasts for no reason? Now they're too square to dance, even Portland-style. If the Thermals can't get those Kirstens to shake their asses, what the hell can?

Photo: Fuzzy because the band refused to stand still, by me.