Review: Classic hardcore punks H2O at the Fillmore

Classic hardcore punks H2O in action in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photo: H2O

WASHINGTON, December 19, 2013 – As a band, H2O has been around for less than 20 years. But for some reason it feels a lot longer than that. For a lot of bands that have been around for the same amount of time – many of whom H2O has even shared a stage with – don’t have the same feel. That’s somewhat surprising when it dawns on you that they’re all contemporaries.

More than likely, that’s also the reason why H2O has always seemed like it was cut from different cloth than were their punk contemporaries.

During H2O’s set recently at the Fillmore in Silver Spring—where they opened for New Found Glory and Alkaline Trio—was like taking a step back to a ‘90s punk show, but not necessarily one most people would familiar with. H2O hails from different territory than the bands that garnered more popularity than they, and they have always been faithful to their roots.

H2O formed in 1995, right in the heart of the punk revival movement, which was gaining the most mainstream attention out in California at that time. Not too long after forming, they signed with Epitaph, creating a bridge to all of those California bands. Hailing from New York City, though, gave H2O a different appeal.

In the ‘90s, punk revival was an attempt by many bands to bring punk rock back to its roots, while at the same maintaining the urgency and aggressiveness originally spawned during the ‘80s with hardcore punk. For many of these bands, this meant reliving, reviving, and rehashing ‘70s English punk bands like the Clash and the Buzzcocks. While this style of punk wasn’t all that far from H2O’s sonic parameters, it wasn’t necessarily where their roots were or what inspired them in the first place.

For anyone in the audience not at least a little familiar with H2O before they started to play, they come across as East Coast through and through. More importantly, their DNA is clearly that of a New York City band, although they do have an appreciation for English punk bands.

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Yet music fans tend to overlook the importance of New York in punk rock’s upbringing—and particularly in the sound and approach of H2O. Not to worry, though. Having New York/East Coast roots isn’t something H2O is about to let anyone forget about.

There weren’t a lot of pop sensibilities in H2O’s set at the Fillmore. This is a band that’s always performed fast and very much to the point. That’s not to say their entire set is devoid of catchy lyrics or riffs. Far from it. But what they put out is all very direct and aggressive with a pointed sense of urgency. 

H2O’s lyrics are catchy in the sense that Toby Morse practices the time-honored NYC hardcore ritual of shouting a chorus that sounds like a mantra that’s easy for the audience to shout back at him and the rest of the band.

That is, in fact, an important facet of H2O’s performance, and something that is very familiar to anyone with a passing understanding of New York hardcore. Connecting with the audience is of the utmost importance to H2O, and the easiest way to make that connection is to play songs with a memorable chorus that can be repeated in full force by the audience after an attempt or two.

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Even if you haven’t heard it in years, simply playing a song off their first album will tell you that this band follows this principle to the letter.  It’s a simple way to keep the audience engaged in the show and make sure they’re never lost.

Ultimately, H2O’s set at the Fillmore underscored the defining aspect of this band and of the fans as well who got them where they are today. This includes not just those fans in attendance at the Fillmore, but the bands that influenced them along the way.

Band singer Toby Morse pointed out several times how great it was to be playing in front of an audience. While this is standard polite far among most bands that perform live, there was a definitive sincerity in Morse’s voice when he made this claim.

For all intents and purposes, Morse and this band have been around since 1995. They just keep plugging at their craft, never forgetting their roots, and above all, never forgetting their loyal fans.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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