Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Hotel BooksPrevious Next
author PP date 02/02/17 venue Willemeen, Arnhem, NL
A friend of mine lives in Arnhem, and Hotel Books was due to perform on a Thursday evening, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: travel to Holland to pay a visit and catch one of the breakout success stories of the past couple of years live. The show takes place at Willemeen, a mostly volunteer-run youth center that resembles our local UnderWerket/KraftWerket establishment in Copenhagen. A downstairs bar with a small stage can probably house around 100-120 guests on a sold out night, and upstairs is home to a bigger hall where bands like Primordial are due to play later this winter. An optimal setting for an intimate concert that Hotel Books take full advantage of. But more about that later, let's first discuss opening band Convictions.
We arrive at the venue slightly delayed about ten minutes into Convictions' set. The Ohio-based band has their hands full on stage displaying a show of energy that suggests we've been missing out: guitars are thrown around ferociously, everyone in the band seems to be up in the air at once doing circle jumps and the like. Can't fault the band for a static live performance at least. Stylistically, the play a fairly textbook version of the melodic hardcore of The Ghost Inside and Hundredth variety, where brutally screamed verses are often contrasted by emotional clean vocal croons during choruses. The sound is awfully muddy, however, so these sound more whiny than anything else, and the heavy passages most of all resemble paying a visit to the Impericon Stage at Groezrock at any given moment thanks to the hollow, echoing sound. Unfortunately, that means Convictions come across as generic live for the first time listener, and having humongous one chord breakdowns littering the songs certainly doesn't make it any less so. That said, the band are working hard on stage and driven by honesty, which is marked by the many speeches about trying to be real and honest, about how it is okay to look weak and you shouldn't be afraid to show that sometimes, and the usual self-help stuff these types of bands tend to go on about. The fantastic energy on stage alleviates the muddled sound, and you're left with a decent impression of the band, even if the musical experience hasn't been particularly memorable.
Prior to the show, making comparisons between NOFX and Hotel Books live would've sounded silly, but tonight's performance draws some uncanny parallels between the two. To start out with, instead of opening straight into a song like most bands, singer/poet Cam Smith spends several minutes describing through anecdotes their UK show experience, where people would nearly heckle them for spending too much time talking compared to playing shows, only to explain that these people don't really understand the vessel that Hotel Book is for him. "I'll be polite to you guys and just ask you nicely: don't talk when I play", he asks us, and sure enough not a peep can be heard from the crowd for the remainder of the set, minus the applauds and cheers of course.
And that's the thing about Hotel Books shows. We don't get to hear too many songs, especially not the popular ones. Cam explains to us that because he wants to display as raw emotion as possible and to make sure the songs sound real, he can only sing and play those songs and poems that currently have personal meaning to him. So it doesn't make sense to play a song like "Nothing Was The Same" when the relationship it talks about is long gone and forgotten. That's a little bit disappointing from the fans' perspective who share some of the same memories in their own lives, but understandable, of course. Besides that, almost every song is preceded by several minutes of what appears to be Smith's stream of consciousness talking. His raw emotion and pure, unadulterated honesty create an intense connection between him and the crowd that is strengthened by his extremely articulate and educated use of vocabulary, just like his songs. So we're basically almost fifteen minutes into the set before we even hear the second song, "Broke Love", but that doesn't matter. The in-between song talks feel like they belong to the whole as a part of the performance.
"The Constant Collapse" follows and sounds very good, before the band departs the stage and Josh from Convictions joins singer Smith on stage. "We're going to play some of the really old Hotel Books songs now, I hope that is okay with you.". These are basically spoken word poems with minimalistic ambiance provided by Josh's guitar, one of them being "Ghosts Can't Love". It's the first Hotel Books poem that Cam Smith posted online in a hope to reach is family and friends about how he really feels inside. He caught viral meningitis and went into a coma, and while he was unconscious, the poem went viral on YouTube. The way this story is told oozes of vulnerability and raw exposed honesty about how he really felt/feels and feels almost unbearably intense when we listen to him talk about the things he's been through. "I Always Thought I Would Be Okay" arrives right after, before the band returns and we get to hear a couple of newer songs like "Car Crash".
In the end, we've spent about an hour to hear a small handful of songs with few hits nor extravagant displays of energy and gimmicks on stage. It's definitely one of the most intense and intimate experiences around in the live music scene, in no way comparable to, say, Listener who preceded Hotel Books in the spoken word/post-hardcore genre by almost a decade. Their set is still all about the songs, whereas Hotel Books' set is about learning and evolving as a human being, and appreciating the lessons hidden in Cam Smith's poetry. It is beautiful and a magical connection that should be tried.