Hot Water Music

support Red City Radio + Spanish Love Songs
author PP date 16/11/19 venue O2 Ritz, Manchester, UK

It's Saturday night and we find ourselves in grey, industrial Manchester, Uk at the O2 Ritz. It's a 1500 capacity venue with a small balcony and bars on all sides of the venue. So what brought us out here all the way from Denmark? It's the start of a very special tour: gravelly Midwestern punk rock legends Hot Water Music are bringing their 25th anniversary performances to Europe, starting with O2 Ritz and playing one of their masterpieces, "Caution", in full. Not every day you get to hear such a raw, depth-laden classic front to back, so naturally, we bought some cheap EasyJet tickets to make our way over here, especially considering the package also includes Spanish Love Songs and Red City Radio on support.

Spanish Love Songs

Starting as the first band out of three is always a difficult task, especially for an emerging act like Spanish Love Songs. Turns out those initial worries about whether the band would have an audience here were baseless as the word about their honesty-driven, emotionally-charged pop punk has reached the ears of HWM fans here tonight. "Losers", the relatively new single, perhaps gets a muted response, but "Bellyache" immediately draws an echoing response for its "I don't think I could fix this if I found God" parts. "Sequels, Remakes & Adaptations" kicks it up a notch and now the crowd is roaring the songs back at the band: this bodes exceptionally well for our own Spanish Love Songs concert in a couple of weeks.

On stage, the band is sourcing every bit of the audience energy and translating it into passionate moments where everyone in the band bends in half, twists and turns jumps around the stage and highlights the key moments in their songs. "Buffalo, Buffalo", for instance, is met with the sort of sing-along that's usually only reserved to headliners, but then again, the "Schmaltz" record is so strong throughout it's no wonder people have found the band. They finish off songs in rapid-fire fashion and allow us to pick another song from "Schmaltz" or a new song, where the pick naturally lands on "El Niño Considers His Failures" followed by "Beer & Nyquil (Hold It Together)". If this is how the band performs and connects with the audience in a support slot, I can't wait to see them headline later this month.

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Setlist:

  • 1. Losers
  • 2. Bellyache
  • 3. Sequels, Remakes, & Adaptations
  • 4. The Boy Considers His Haircut
  • 5. (No) Reason To Believe
  • 6. Buffalo Buffalo
  • 7. El Niño Considers His Failures
  • 8. Beer & Nyquil (Hold It Together)

Red City Radio

Red City Radio is a very different band these days. I remember seeing them on the debut album tour a couple of times and they were the perfect example of passion and raw energy on stage. Today, with the material leaning far more on alternative rock than punk rock on self-titled and "SkyTigers" releases, they are a far more polished and professional band, which ironically makes them less believable and enjoyable on stage. The crowd is mostly apathetic compared to Spanish Love Songs just before, save for a couple of big sing-alongs to "Whatcha Got?" and "If You Want Blood" in the beginning. The mood certainly doesn't mirror the passion and emotional charge we saw between SLS and the audience just before, and that's because songs like "Two Out Of Three Ain't Rad", "Electricity" and even the relatively catchy "Rebels" just aren't that interesting to punk rock fans. They're too poppy and safe, standard fare 4-by-4 tracks with pop choruses where any and all grit has been ironed away in favour of more 'mature' songwriting.

"Let's play some old shit". Boom, the crowd wakes up from a coma and becomes much more animated for "Too Much Whiskey, Not Enough Blankets" off the debut album, but sadly it is followed by another new track - "Love A Liar" and the energy is once again drained from us. Fortunately, "In The Meantime..." is a great example that the band can still deliver raw punk rock when they want to, and what do you know, the audience is right back where it should be: singing along, partying and dancing in the crowd. If it sounds black and white to you on paper, that's because it really is. "Show Me On The Doll Where The Music Touched You" of "Titles" is another example of a song that just works: "I AM A FUCKING JUGGERNAUT" chants are roared back by the crowd in loyal fashion.

It's not that the new songs are bad, per se. It's just that the old songs are just so much better. I hate to sound like a broken record, but in the case of Red City Radio, the fact is, the new material just doesn't live up to the brilliant, treble-charged, Midwestern-fueled melodic punk anthems of the first two records.

Setlist:

  • 1. Whatcha Got?
  • 2. If You Want Blood (Be My Guest)
  • 3. Two Out of Three Ain’t Rad
  • 4. Electricity
  • 5. Rebels
  • 6. I’ll Still Be Around
  • 7. Too Much Whiskey, Not Enough Blankets
  • 8. Love A Liar
  • 9.In the Meantime…
  • 10. Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You
  • 11.In the Shadows

Hot Water Music playing "Caution"

As the lights dim in O2 Ritz, the crowd anticipation feels tense. After all, we're about to witness one of the most influential punk rock albums played front-to-back exactly as you remember it on record. These are the special moments to cherish years down the line when you've seen a band a multitude of times in different formats ranging from festivals to small club shows and arenas alike. The full album shows are something special, even if Chris Wollard isn't here to perform these songs together with his partner in crime, Chuck Ragan. But as we've witnessed in the past, Chris Cresswell of The Flatliners does a mighty job in delivering a faithful interpretation of the originals in his own right. Let's just hope The Flatliners won't end up on hiatus as Alkaline Trio did as a result of Matt Skiba joining Blink 182.

Right, where were we? At this point, probably right about the "I hate this place, I love these chords" sing-alongs of the trusty old classic, "Trusty Chords". And sing-alongs they are: deafening word-by-word chants characterize just about every "Caution" song, even the rarer ones like the slow-paced, complex "It's All Related" and the quirky "Alright For Now". The band look rehearsed and tight, and are supplemented by a great sound that favours their depth-laden, intricate form of punk rock here in the venue tonight. We roll through moments like "One Step To Slip", "Sweet Disasters" in class and style, like one big community celebrating one of the most important records in the genre, which unleashes its full potential during the woo-hoo song "Wayfarer" towards the end. The "Caution" part is, simply put, rock-solid if not necessarily spectacular: Hot Water Music delivers the goods with the sort of professionalism and passion as we're used to hearing on their record.

But that's not all. After all, the record is just over 35 minutes long, and since the band plays it more or less straight with only a few thank you's for supporting them over the years in between, it means there's plenty of time to explore other material as well. And given that we're here also celebrating 25 years of Hot Water Music simultaneously, it's only natural we dig deep into their back catalogue. "We haven't played this one in a long, long time", Ragan proclaims, before they rip out 2001 rarity "Old Rules" from "A Flight And A Crash", followed by the title track of the same record. While the first one isn't known to be one of the tracks drawing big sing-alongs, its successor certainly is, underlining the natural awe-inspiring sound of Midwestern punk rock in one fell swoop. Intricate guitar lines, sublime bass and rhythm section, with roared call-outs and unconventional structure, it's one of the band's classic songs that frequents their sets no matter where they play.

Then it's time to swing the pendulum back towards the modern-day. We start with the brand new "Shake Up The Shadows" from this year's EP with the same name, before "Drag My Body" engulfs the venue in a sing-along that might even surpass those during "Caution". This is how you know the band is still relevant because all the newer tracks aired today from "Mainline" to "Never Going Back" receive a thunderous response from the crowd. But we keep the new material at just four tracks overall tonight, as it's time to explore further into the back catalogue. "The End Of The Line" is even better than I remember it from 2004's "The New What Next", and the LIVE YOUR HEART AND NEVER FOLLOW" parts of "No Division" classic "It's Hard To Know" are shouted back by everyone in the crowd with their hearts on their sleeves. If there ever was a scene-defining, back-chilling moment, it is this line in this song, played in this venue, tonight.

The evening is closed by the sweet bass-licks of "Turnstile": a perfect delivery of "Caution" followed by a dip into rarities and classics alike, with a couple of newer tracks to balance it all out. This is the kind of show that matters, the kind of concert that's worth traveling for. While not perfect (a sold-out show would've created an even more intense atmosphere), it suggests the upcoming "Caution" tour is going to be a hell of an experience. We'll report back from the "No Division" show in Berlin later this week.

Setlist:

  • 1. Remedy
  • 2. Trusty Chords
  • 3. I Was on a Mountain
  • 4. One Step to Slip
  • 5. It's All Related
  • 6. The Sense
  • 7. Not for Anyone
  • 8. Sweet Disasters
  • 9. Alright For Now
  • 10. We'll Say Anything We Want
  • 11. Wayfarer
  • 12. The End
  • 13. Old Rules
  • 14. A Flight and a Crash
  • 15. Shake Up The Shadows
  • 16. Drag My Body
  • 17. The End of the Line
  • 18. Mainline
  • 19. Never Going Back
  • 20. It's Hard to Know
  • 21. Turnstile

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