Hot Water Music

support Tim Barry + The Flatliners
author PP date 27/04/18 venue Astra, Berlin, GER

After having attended the brilliant one-off show at Danforth Music Hall show at Toronto, Canada, where Hot Water Music delivered a brilliant performance to a sold-out crowd with an equally impressive showing by The Flatliners and Iron Chic, the temptation was too great to resist so I booked myself on a much shorter flight to Berlin to catch yet another one of their rare appearances in Europe. The venue is the 800 capacity Astra, an old repurposed warehouse building located in the heart of East Berlin, and it has been sold out for months in advance with desperate fans looking for tickets in the show and begging for a show upgrade. Needless to say, these are ingredients for yet another epic show by one of the living legends within punk rock.

The Flatliners

It's a warm summer evening outside so the venue is nearly empty as The Flatliners start their set at 19:00 sharp. Many probably assumed they would play after Tim Barry, but this way Chris Cresswell is allowed a little extra rest on his vocals since he will once again be filling in for Chris Wollard at Hot Water Music later on. It doesn't take long for people to begin flowing in from the outdoor terrace area, though, as the band kicks off with the excellent "Hang My Head" from the new album, followed straight away by an old classic, "Eulogy". Usually, these two go hand-in-hand with sing-alongs, but since the venue is barely 30% full at this point, the sound is muddy and full of echo, making it difficult to make out Cresswell's vocals. That's a recurring theme throughout their set and results in a surprisingly lukewarm reception compared to what I've seen at their others shows thus far. It's a shame because it sounds like the instrumentals are spot on, just the vocals are pushed back into oblivion in the mix, resulting in a situation where the band just doesn't feel tight.

Looking back at the setlist, the ingredients were otherwise there for another evening where The Flatliners just wins over the crowd through their solid material. "Carry The Banner" and "Birds Of England" are punk rock classics at this point together with "Count Your Bruises", and the new track "Indoors", while different, is an excellent alternative rock song. All are delivered with the same passion and charming rapport as Flatliners shows usually are, however, it is only the final song "Indoors" which enjoys any sort of reasonable sound quality in terms of the vocals. A shame, but the band pull through a decent performance nonetheless.

7

Setlist:

  • 1. Hang My Head
  • 2. Eulogy
  • 3. Resuscitation Of The Year
  • 4. Carry The Banner
  • 5. Nicotine Lips
  • 6. Birds Of England
  • 7. Human Party Trick
  • 8. Count Your Bruises
  • 9. Indoors

Tim Barry

It can be a lonely stage out there when you're standing in front of 800 people equipped just with a microphone and your acoustic guitar. Not so for Tim Barry (ex-Avail), who takes us on a charming working-class journey of personal stories and anecdotes about how he pulled himself together from the gutter and came up with these songs in the process. Many songs are backed up by lengthy and detailed descriptions about how drugs and beer almost ruined his life until he got his shit together and started going running and to the gym to fix his life.

Stylistically, his earnest Midwest style brings to mind a combination of Social Distortion and Swingin' Utters, so when you combine that with the stories, it creates an intense connection between Barry and the crowd. By the end of the set, we are singing along, which says it all about how well he's able to capture the Hot Water Music crowd. A very positive surprise indeed.

Hot Water Music

By the time Hot Water Music get on stage at 9 pm, the venue is packed to its limits to an extent where it's nearly impossible to get a spot anywhere within 50 meters to the stage. The numerous pillars at Astra make the viewing angles from the side less optimal, so some crowd swimming skills were direly needed if you wanted to see anything in detail.

The atmosphere is therefore already through the roof as the band kicks off with "State of Grace" to small sing-alongs, but already the "Caution" classic "Sweet Disasters" releases a sense of euphoria in the crowd that looks to continue throughout the set. Chris Wollard is still battling issues with his health and so is replaced by The Flatliners' Chris Cresswell, and as usual, he does an excellent job in filling those big shoes, first audible in the Wollard-led title track from "No Division", where he delivers a masterful performance, just as he does later on during "Paper Thin".

"A Flight And A Crash" sounds as sublime today as it did back then on the record, yet it is "Drag My Body" that erupts Astra into echoing mass sing-alongs together with the new song "Bury Your Idols". It's good to see that new material is being accepted by the fans because consistency both creates new fans but also keeps the existing ones coming back.

Then we're back into "Caution"-era material: "Alright For Now" and "The Sense" may not draw as huge sing-alongs, but the depth-laden instrumentals and brilliant vocal dynamics leave no-one cold. "Remedy", on the other hand, sends roars through the crowd, whilst the sexy bass lines of older classic "Turnstile" send chills down our collective backs, especially when suddenly, a fan is elevated from near the front rows to crowd surf in his WHEELCHAIR drawing huge applause from the crowd. What surprises me the most, however, is how loud the crowd gets for another "No Division" classic, "It's Hard To Know" and it's "Live your heart and never follow." parts. For some reason, this part resonated with the Berlin crowd way more than it did with the Toronto one.

We all know what happens next: "Trusty Chords" lights up Astra like no other song did before it. Without earplugs your eardrums surely will have exploded from the combination of Chuck Ragan and the crowd singing the woo-hoo bits to the song, so unsurprisingly when the band disappears after the song, the venue erupts into a lengthy "WE WANT MORE, WE WANT MORE" chant.

A short encore later and we're treated for an interesting mix of songs: Tim Barry joins to cover his own band Avail on vocals with "Simple Song". Interesting twist, and a reminder of how good the Avail songs were back then. Still, it is "Wayfarer" that steals all the glory with what is likely the biggest woo-hoo sing along in the history of punk rock other than Pennywise's "Bro Hymn", so naturally we're all singing from the top of our lungs once again. "Rooftops" is good, too, but why the band opts to finish off with a "True Believers" cover by The Bouncing Souls, Hot Water Music style is quite puzzling. Would've liked to hear one of their own tracks instead, I must admit.

And when the show is over, we can summarize it in a couple of ways. One, the band spent very little time interacting with the crowd, because they simply don't have to. The songs and their passion on stage speak for itself. Two, the setlist consists of basically one incredibly solid song after another so it's always going to be great. And three, while the show was objectively great, it was never truly spectacular in the same sense that the Toronto show was a few months ago. Astra as a venue isn't one of the better ones if you ask me, so that contributes to its less-than-perfect sound quality and the difficulty in getting beer refills mid-set, but those are only minor gripes with what was otherwise another reminder why Hot Water Music is still one of the best bands in punk rock.

8

Setlist:

  • 1. State of Grace
  • 2. Sweet Disasters
  • 3. Never Going Back
  • 4. No Division
  • 5. A Flight and a Crash
  • 6. Drag My Body
  • 7. Bury Your Idols
  • 8. Alright For Now
  • 9. Mainline
  • 10. Paper Thin
  • 11. The Sense
  • 12. Remedy
  • 13. Alachua
  • 14. Vultures
  • 15. Turnstile
  • 16. It's Hard To Know
  • 17. Trusty Chords
  • --Encore--
  • 18. Simple Song (Avail cover)
  • 19. Wayfarer
  • 20. Rooftops
  • 21. True Believers (The Bouncing Souls cover)

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