Words by: Chiara DiAngelo | Photos by: Stephen McGill –
Gainesville, Florida’s punk rock veterans Hot Water Music played an all-ages show at The Danforth Music Hall on Tuesday night, bringing with them popular-with-the-kids The Menzingers and La Dispute.
Rarely does a show start on time, and even less rarely does start earlier than expected. Hailing from Pennsylvania, punk-rockers The Menzingers opened the night, taking the stage at 7:45PM, to a mid-sized crowd of primarily teenagers. While they’ve been around since 2006, it was really last year’s On the Impossible Past, put out by Epitaph Records that put them on everyone’s radar. The band got the energy going early, starting with the opening track from that record, “Good Things,” and the crowd reciprocated, quickly forming a mosh pit. Shared vocals between guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May provided a great contrast. While Barnett was the band’s frontman, it was May who stole the show. When not at the mic, he was jumping all over the stage with boundless energy, or slaying the guitar in his signature deep knee-bend.
They offered a seamless combination of uplifting lyrics sung with smiles on their faces backed with genuine and heavy pure punk riffs – none of that banal pop-punk here. This might have been best exemplified on “The Obituaries.” The catchy chorus of “I will fuck this up, I fucking know it” lends it an anthemic quality and it was obvious from the reaction received that the band’s words spoke to the younger audience. Other highlights included “Nice Things” and “Gates.” Barnett also sent “Burn After Writing” to The Flatliners, whom they opened for at the Opera House last month. By the time their set ended, the crowd was calling for an encore. Sorry kids, that doesn’t happen for openers.
The buzz in the air as Michigan’s La Dispute took the stage felt like that usually reserved for a headlining act. There were immediate fist pumps as they started into first song “The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit” from 2011’s Wildlife. Definitely the most far-removed style-wise from the rest of the show’s lineup, the band plays heavy and angry progressive post-hardcore, yet their songs were somehow still really engaging. Tracks like “Why It Scares Me” are built around a combination of spoken word stories told through lyrics that read like poetry and heavier screaming by singer Jordan Dreyer. It often felt like a punch in the gut, yet you were constantly begging for more.
Dreyer’s movements were a sight to behold, it felt like his tiny frame was all consumed. By the third song, he had left the stage and entered the photo pit (perhaps that’s why the band requested no photographers…?), climbing up the barrier and singing directly into the crowd of faithful followers, and handing the mic over to them. Every single person in the mob front and center shouted along to each and every word of “New Storms for Older Lovers.” Dreyer dedicated a song to former tourmates, the now-disbanded Alexisonfire, many of whom were actually in attendance. While he took up a tambourine for this one, even this couldn’t diffuse an ounce of their intensity. “Said The King To The River” and “All Our Bruised Bodies And The Whole Heart Shrinks” were similarly an unrelenting assault.
They closed with crowd-favourite “King Park.” Towards the end, the instruments dropped down to just one guitar, and vocals halted as Dreyer mopped the sweat from his brow. All members except for the drummer turned their backs to the audience, quietly resuming playing, before they gave it one last go to end their set.
It was a strange feeling to witness the obvious changeover in the audience between sets as the young crowd – much of whom had obviously come specifically for La Dispute – exited and the older folk – who don’t come for openers, especially when they start at 8PM – moved in for the main event. By the time Hot Water Music took the stage to crackled intro music, the audience was comprised primarily of the generation of people who grew up in the age of 90’s and early 2000’s punk rock.
Having released their first studio album in eight years with last year’s Exister, their set also heavily featured 2002’s Caution, and 1999’s No Division, two of the biggest albums from their 20-year history. Led by guitarist Chuck Ragan, the veterans eased their way into things with “Remedy” before letting loose on the powerful new song “Mainline.” They surprisingly played everyone’s favourite “Trusty Chords” quite early on in their set, then sending out “Giver” to their tourmates before finally getting a response from the crowd with “State of Grace.”
While it was much less crazy than expected (the two guys near the front who voiced their worry of being pushed into the barrier really had nothing to worry about), the band was completely absorbed in providing a memorable show. Ragan is a classic epitome of grizzled punk rocker, from his scruffy curls to his rasp of a voice. Nothing but passionate emotion exuded through his gruff vocals. Fellow guitarist Chris Wollard was also in top form.
There was minimal banter and interaction with the audience except to express their gratitude for the longtime fans who continue to come out to shows, and the new fans who were experiencing Hot Water Music for the first time. Three-quarters of the way in and it felt like finally heads were sufficiently banging along to “Our Own Way.” They followed it up with “Drag My Body,” the most recent single released and an easy personal favourite from the new album. They went back into the depths of their discography for the last of their set, including “Rooftops” and the triumphant “whoa-oh-oh’s” of “Wayfarer.” Just when it felt like they were finally hitting their stride and gaining momentum with the audience, it was over. Luckily the band returned for a three-song encore, providing a further dose of nostalgia with older hits “One Step to Slip” and “It’s Hard to Know”.
Despite the unsettling atmosphere, Hot Water Music remain one of those bands whose music gets inside not only your head, but also your heart and your soul. It’s easy to become jaded and worry about the state of the world around you and “kids these days” – these guys remind you what punk rock and live music in general is all about. It’s a sad shame that so many of the younger crowd left before Ragan and company had the chance to school them in just that.