Hot Water Music / The Lawrence Arms - live in Sayreville (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Hot Water Music / The Lawrence Arms

live in Sayreville (2008)

live show

Train-hopping three different rail lines was nothing compared to the distances some had traveled to see Hot Water Music play their reunion performance in Sayreville, NJ. Living a modest 1:58 away out on Long Island paled albino-like contrasted against the I-95s and 400s traversed by road warriors wearier than I. Props.

Waiting for Hot Water Music to begin their set was made easier by the incredibly solid pair of openers picked. Getting lost a bit in Sayreville with musical-monkey did cause us to miss the first few minutes of Static Radio NJ's set, but this was okay considering the majority of it was yet to be played. The band dug into some tracks from their EP, One for the Good Guys ("Who's Laughing Now" for one), and paired it with some new songs from a forthcoming (presumably) full-length due out this summer on Black Numbers. The stuff sounded good -- it's more melodic and thoughtful. But if you want a blunt description, it's less Kid Dynamite and more Lifetime. That's made more humorous since their bald frontdude bore physical and stage-wise resemblance to Ari Katz -- only with, you know, energy. A couple of the songs provoked a surprisingly big response from obvious fans, while most everyone seemed to generally approve.

The Lawrence Arms continued the orgcore smorgasbord with show #940 for the trio. Being such a special event, Brendan Kelly was plastered worse than palace walls (according to monkey, he would stage dive twice during HWM's set and possibly get in a scuffle with a Starland security official). He slurred some Heath Ledger jokes, and later became unusually sentimental with the crowd, telling them that hearing Caution made him feel 13 again during a shaky European tour with TLA in 2002. I'm paraphrasing here, so bear with me: "When I hear 'Trusty Chords,' for those three minutes I feel like everything is going to be all right." He even went so far as to say that HWM was the reason TLA are still together. Big words! In any event, that had to mean a whole lot of grateful faces in the crowd, because for the majority of the set, emotional, gravelly, forceful sing-alongs were already erupting from the sunken floor of Starland Ballroom. "On with the Show" was hilarious -- the band's most aggressive song (and easily one of their best) was barely recognizable its first few seconds due solely to its ridiculously sloppy intro from Brendan. Speaking of The Greatest Story Ever Told, I was particularly thrilled to hear the rarely played and vastly under-appreciated "The Revisionist," delivered by the usually earnest Christopher McCaughan. But where the reactions lied best were the six songs spun from Oh! Calcutta! of course, as well as the few classics / set staples the band threw in for good measure ("100 Resolutions," "Turnstiles," "Quincentuple Your Money"). The crowd was now saucy, sweaty, and primed for the main attraction.

Set list (8:41-9:30):

  1. Recovering the Opposable Thumb
  2. Great Lakes / Great Escapes
  3. -----
  4. On with the Show
  5. -----
  6. Turnstiles
  7. -----
  8. Quincentuple Your Money
  9. The First Eviction Notice
  10. -----
  11. The Devil's Takin' Names
  12. Lose Your Illusion I
  13. -----
  14. The Ramblin' Boys of Pleasure
  15. The Revisionist
  16. -----
  17. Are You There, Margaret? It's Me, God
  18. -----
  19. 100 Resolutions
  20. -----
  21. Like a Record Player
Somehow, I'd never seen Hot Water Music in the few years they were still together and had me hooked as a fan. But I'd imagine it was quite like this -- the band playing absolutely, positively dead-on and with the same passion that bleeds from their albums' open sores. When I say they didn't miss a beat, I say they carried the heart of a lion. Chuck Ragan howled in all his beautiful, incomprehensible glory, contrasted, as always, by Chris Wollard's mildly cleaner delivery; meanwhile, Jason Black pulsated steadily and George Rebelo blasted away at the skins effortlessly. Watching the smile spread across Ragan's face as he saw a gang of thrilled, crushed fans up front and singing along to the opening caution (womp womp) of "Wayfarer" was simply endearing.

I'll admit the band was oddly heavy on the Epitaph era as they alternated tracks from Caution and A Flight and a Crash their first five songs -- and this comes from someone who hails Caution as their best album and prefers the Epitaph to No Idea (/Doghouse/Some) era. Well, maybe I'm just cranky because they leaned most heavily on my least favorite of the Epitaph era (A Flight and a Crash had 7 songs here, No Division being the runner-up at 5); the underrated (at least, IMO) The New What Next only beared 2 selections, and they weren't even standouts on the album! (Those would go to "Poison," "The End of the Line," "There Are Already Roses," "Keep It Together," "The Ebb and Flow" and "Bottomless Seas." But that's a discussion for another time.)

Still, just about every classic from their back catalog was rocked, and even though the Epitaph songs kept a steady stream of fans busting their gut and flailing about, those numbers like "Rooftops" and "It's Hard to Know" had the entire venue in a chorus. Fans packed out every corner of the Starland floor; speckled with five o'clock shadows and perspectives practically a mile away, even the rear room patrons were still clenching eyes and shouting along in pleasurable glory.

About those aforementioned flailers: The pits did get to be over-the-top obnoxious in some instances; maybe it was Kelly in the aforementioned incident, maybe not, but some sort of fight actually did break out during "Choked and Separated" and the band immediately quit playing (inadvertently bringing the title to life, perhaps). One of the band members (Wollard?) ensured they wouldn't go on until things were settled; once they were, they picked up from the bridge and finished out the song. From my vantage point, I couldn't quite see what exactly was happening, but I'm sure we'll get eyewitness accounts.

Alcohol-fueled overzealousness aside, Hot Water Music delivered just what we all hoped for (again, despite some oddly imbalanced album dependences). The performance was clearly sincere and spot-on, and they even managed to bring along perfect openers to whet our appetites.

[You can find an album-by-album breakdown below as well]

Set list (9:57-11:08):
  1. A Flight and a Crash
  2. Wayfarer
  3. Paper Thin
  4. -----
  5. Trusty Chords
  6. Jack of All Trades
  7. Rooftops
  8. -----
  9. Kill the Night
  10. Instrumental
  11. Free Radio Gainesville
  12. All Heads Down
  13. -----
  14. I Was on a Mountain
  15. Moonpies for Misfits
  16. Our Own Way
  17. Swinger
  18. -----
  19. The Sense
  20. Choked and Separated [paused for fight]
  21. -----
  22. Better Sense
  23. 220 Years
  24. -----
  25. Remedy
  26. Manual
  27. -----
  28. Turnstile
  29. Encore (11:11-11:25):
  30. Giver
  31. -----
  32. At the End of a Gun
  33. Old Rules
  34. -----
  35. It's Hard to Know
Fuel for the Hate Game: 2
Forever and Counting: 2
No Division: 5
A Flight and a Crash: 7
Caution: 4
'Til the Wheels Fall Off / Moonpies for Misfits: 2
The New What Next: 2

All photos by Jason Bergman
More HWM photos
More photos of the Lawrence Arms and Static Radio NJ