Hot Water Music, Menzingers and La Dispute at Metro | Photos and review
Still touring in support of their Epitaph debut, last year’s On the Impossible Past, opening band the Menzingers seem to be finding their home in the comfy confines of pop-punk. They've always been better live than on record, and that's doubly true for the glossed-up simplicity of songs from their record Impossible Past. The band usually displays a bit more energy and tightness onstage than they did tonight, almost flubbing a couple of rhythm changes, but guitarist Tom May did mention that they barely arrived in time for the show. By the end of the set, they’d warmed up enough to knock out “Irish Goodbyes” with aplomb.
I do love this band, and “Good Things” is one of my favorite tunes from 2012, but the Menzingers seem to be painting themselves into a corner. Once a uniquely aggressive punk band with smart pop sensibility, the quartet moved closer to pop-punk in signing with Red Scare in 2009, then really took the plunge by signing with Epitaph last year. Fiscally, there couldn’t have been a smarter move, but even onstage tonight, it seems to have softened the punch the Scranton boys once had. Smiley singalongs have replaced their more dynamic sing/scream confessionals, but I suppose that comes with success. Regardless, I'll be at their headlining show when they return to Chicago in May.
La Dispute is a fairly talented, fashionable band that lets a scrawny man named Jordan Dreyer stand in front, flail around and yelp bad high-school poetry. The four musicians sulk and stare at their pedals. Teenagers seem to love it, and they know all the words, especially to the song where Dreyer asks “Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?” I saw more than one young girl yell along and raise her fist to reveal scars up and down her arms. This shit needs to stop, regardless of how much money it makes for these five Michiganders.
But fear not, for justice was served. Hot Water Music played an all-favorites set, heavy on more dynamic, middle-era material. The quartet’s best stuff showcases an unrivaled ability to sound like early Jawbreaker with a stronger rhythm section (bassist Jason Black and drummer George Rebelo are too good for words, so I won’t even try) while also, conversely, exhibiting maximum restraint. The popular "Rooftops" is the most understated number in Hot Water's repertoire; it shows reverence for song structure, for the power of a fearless voice, and, above all, for the audience.
Hot Water Music fans come in all ages, sizes and colors, comprising one of the most eclectic sold-out crowds I’ve seen at the Metro. In the mezzanine, old friends hugged and spilled their drinks onto the floor, while crowd surfers were pushed back into the fray by the Metro’s Thursday night security team. One zealot made his way over the barrier and continued to rage, pumping his fist and resisting all efforts from multiple bouncers to remove him. “You fucking rule, man,” said singer/guitarist Chris Wollard. Fellow vocalist/axeman Chuck Ragan then dubbed him a “party animal,” and demanded that someone “get a bag of ice for that guy’s forehead.”
In stark contrast to the sulky, latent teen angst of La Dispute, Ragan and Wollard actually smile and enjoy themselves onstage. And why wouldn't they? Still living the dream, twenty years and two breakup/reformations later, the band is lucky, but not ungrateful to have retained such a loving and enthusiastic audience. Stage banter consisted of nothing but thanks and praise for their support system, even shoutouts to their crew and tour manager. I'm at a loss to say anything negative about the Gainesville quartet. Hot Water Music seems to do everything right, shredding triumphantly as a testament to how uplifting, inspiring and downright heartening a no-bullshit rock band can be.