Hot Water Music

support The Flatliners + Iron Chic
author PP date 27/01/18 venue Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, CAN

It's a crisp Saturday night and we find ourselves in Toronto, Canada for a one-off concert featuring some of the best bands punk rock has to offer. A rare Hot Water Music appearance is coupled with The Flatliners, who are arguably the best Canadian band that the genre has to offer, and the ridiculously hyped newcomers Iron Chic, who just released a brilliant new album last year. It doesn't get much better than that if you're into FEST style Midwestern punk rock and the like, so naturally, we snatched cheap plane tickets and flew over to capture the festivities.

Tonight's show takes place at the Danforth Music Hall in eastern Toronto, a 1500-capacity venue shaped like a theater with a slanted floor, not much unlike London's Forum or Brixton Academy in that sense. Standing tickets are sold out, and judging by the number of touts outside the venue selling tickets for far over face value, it looks like the balcony area is approaching a sold-out status as well.

Iron Chic

There's something special about Iron Chic shows no matter where you see them: their fans receive them with a sense of indescribable euphoria each time, with arms and beer cans flying high up in the air from the first words to "Cutesy Monster Man" that instantly draws a small sing-along from the crowd. For those to whom Iron Chic is a new acquaintance, it's the same story all over again: it takes a few songs before the cheers and applauds grow louder as everyone begins to fully absorb the truly uplifting and highly melodic sing-along anthems these guys are capable of producing. There's just something special about their honesty-driven, unassuming chant alongs that draw back-chills, such as during "My Best Friend (Is A Nihilist)" or "Wolf Dix Rd.". The latter in particular is the kind of jam that converts curious onlookers into fans on first listen, at least in normal circumstances.

Tonight, however, something feels off. Not only is the sound questionable with an odd imbalance between the guitars and the vocals, but the band is caught in weird, somewhat awkward pauses of silence in between their songs, which makes their set feel unrehearsed and lacking the tightness their songs have on record. That said, when the band actually play their songs, it's simply great and we're all singing along.

Setlist:

  • 1. Cutesy Monster Man
  • 2. My Best Friend (Is A Nihilist)
  • 3. Timecop
  • 4. Every Town Has An Elm Street
  • 5. A Headache With Pictures
  • 6. Wolf Dix Rd.
  • 7. Ruinous Calamity
  • 8. Time Keeps On Slipping Into The (Cosmic) Future

The Flatliners

So if Iron Chic felt a little untight early on, The Flatliners are the polar opposite of that. Playing in front of a hometown audience that by now has packed the venue full, Chris Cresswell's crew bring out their inner entertainer tonight whether synchronous jumps on stage or Cresswell charismatically shouting "Oh my god how are you all tonight!" after playing a couple of bangers right off the bat. "Hang My Head", for instance, is the perfect show opener with its melodic guitar intro that leads into a prolonged "Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah I hang my head" from the new album, and "Caskets Full" is a flat-out punk rock classic these days with its upbeat guitars and catchy choruses. But back to Chris Cresswell. The brief pauses between songs are packed with natural banter, whether about having played here only a couple of months ago where the band played "The Great Awake" in full or about giving Iron Chic credit for being an incredible band in general.

But it's when the band plays their songs that the magic happens. The quality of song is simply fantastic from crowd-pleasers like "Carry The Banner" and "Sew My Mouth Shut", both of which draw echoing sing-alongs in the venue, to newer cuts like "Human Party Trick" and "Indoors", which receive a huge response from the crowd as well. When you couple these with an infectiously high energy display of showmanship on stage and a few more great choruses, the set feels like it gets better and better as it progresses. And indeed that's what it does. The sing-alongs to "Count Your Bruises" are massive, but closing song "Eulogy" draws the biggest response of the night so far with its "You will always be remembered, you will be celebrated. You will never be forgotten, these tears still haven't faded" chorus that we all sing in unison. With a balanced mix of old and new without a drop in consistency, The Flatliners once again prove why they are one of the best punk bands of this generation.

Setlist:

  • 1. Hang My Head
  • 2. Caskets Full
  • 3. Carry the Banner
  • 4. Resuscitation of the Year
  • 5. Mother Teresa Chokeslams the World
  • 6. Birds of England
  • 7. Human Party Trick
  • 8. Sew My Mouth Shut
  • 9. Count Your Bruises
  • 10. Unconditional Love
  • 11. Indoors
  • 12. Eulogy

Hot Water Music

A couple of cold ones later and Hot Water Music look just about ready to jump on stage. I glance behind and realize the venue is packed to its limits and has all the looks and feels of a sold-out show: a perfect setting for anthemic sing-alongs and a celebratory mood with one of the all-time best bands the genre has seen. Just as in the past few sporadic shows, the band is playing without one of its icons in Chris Wollard, who is dealing with anxiety and stress-related personal issues. It's a good thing they have a second Chris available to fill those shoes nicely, namely Mr. Cresswell from The Flatliners, who does a great job at performing Wollard's songs without Flatlinerizing the material given his distinct voice.

"I NEED A REMEDY!!!" - and so it begins with golden throat Chuck Ragan's aggressively coarse roar to the seminal opening track of "Caution", a Midwestern punk masterpiece that came to define an entire genre when it was released in 2002. From here onwards, it's one magical moment after the next where Ragan's shirt is progressively more and more drenched in sweat as the band display an uncanny level of tightness and energy even as they are missing one member altogether. "Never Going Back" from last year's album of the year release "Light It Up" underlines exactly why the record landed in the top spots of so many year-end lists: infectious roars and perfectly timed woo-ooh-ooh's are sure to capture the punk audience as it does tonight, encompassing the venue in a thunderous sing along.

"A Flight And A Crash" and "Jack Of All Trades" take us back to the old days, with the latter seeing Chris Cresswell take a leading role filling Wollard's parts in commendable fashion. Though lesser known than their biggest hits, these depth-laden tracks are foundational Hot Water Music material that perfectly encapsulates the dense layers of guitars and gravelly roars without going too far into pop realm, which "State Of Grace" from "Exister" does, for instance. Both styles work, but there's something special about the old tracks. That said, the brand new album is often cited to sound a lot more like the old material, and hence "Bury Your Idols" is basically a sing-along from start to finish because it's been fully absorbed the fan base already at this stage. It's followed by "Sweet Disasters", one of the cornerstone tracks off "Caution" that brings with it one of those unforgettable moments that I jotted down in my notes simply as "happiness is traveling halfway across the globe and screaming along to songs with total strangers that feel like lifelong best friends". Yeah, you know exactly what I mean.

"We wouldn't be the men we are today without you guys..., Ragan begins, continuing to explain how important the fanbase is to the band in his charismatic, down-to-earth fashion. Together with his lumberjack style roar and an eclectic guitar sound, he's one of those iconic vocalists that will go down in history books as one of the most revered frontmen the music scene has seen, not just because of the sheer passion he displays when performing their songs, but especially because of the material he has written together with Wollard. The set is a constant sing along, but it's often understated just how good the band is in general: the sublime bass-lines, the unconventional percussion, the thick guitar lines, together they all form a grower type of a sound that takes many listens to fully absorb but one that rewards a listener with a lifetime of repeat play value.

Epic "Trust Chords" mass sing-along

We get through a few more "Caution" classics before it's time for the big cuts: "Turnstile" impresses with its smooth bass lines, and "Trust Chords" is predictably the biggest woo-hoo sing-along fest of the night together with "Wayfarer" later on. But what is great to see is how good of a response new tracks like "Drag My Body", "Sympathizer" and "Vultures" receive from the past couple of albums. The fanbase has taken ownership of both albums to equal measure as the band's old classics, which says a lot about the sort of consistency we're used to hearing from HWM in general. Tonight, that consistency translates into an unforgettable night even without Wollard in the lineup, but as Ragan gracefully states at one point, they wouldn't be doing this without his blessing and encouragement while also sending heartfelt thanks to The Flatliners for making this show possible at all. At the end of the day and twenty-two songs later, HWM prove once again why they are one of the most important bands in punk rock worth traveling to see given how rarely they play these days.

Setlist:

  • 1. Remedy
  • 2. Never Going Back
  • 3. A Flight And A Crash
  • 4. Jack Of All Trades
  • 5. State Of Grace
  • 6. Bury Your Idols
  • 7. Sweet Disasters
  • 8. Paper Thin
  • 9. Poison
  • 10. Complicated
  • 11. The Sense
  • 12. Alright For Now
  • 13. Mainline
  • 14. Sympathizer
  • 15. Drag My Body
  • 16. Rooftops
  • 17. It's Hard To Know
  • 18. Turnstiles
  • 19. Trusty Chords
  • --Encore--
  • 20. No Division
  • 21. Vultures
  • 22. Wayfarer

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