Hot Water Music at the 9:30 Club

Florida's post-hardcore icons Hot Water Music perform at DC's 9:30 Club. Photo: Hot Water Music

WASHINGTON, February, 14, 2012 —Not many bands have the same musical credibility as Hot Water Music. Within the punk/post-hardcore scene both inside and outside Florida, one would be hard pressed to find a more well respected band, even by their detractors. This is one of the reasons why their latest album, Exister, was so highly anticipated – despite the band’s changing musical style – and their recent show at the 9:30 Club was so well attended.

Hot Water Music – who take their name from the Charles Bukowski book – have gone from being a band with one of the more passionate fan bases, to one that has become a must-see among fans of the indie rock scene. When the band broke up in 2006, their reputation continued to grow, in part because of co-front man Chuck Ragan’s solo work was highly praised, and in equal part because remaining band members Chuck Wollard, Jason Black, and George Rebelo formed the Draft in the meantime. Since the group was still producing good music separately, it only fueled the idea that Hot Water Music wasn’t really finished as a force.

So it wasn’t a surprise in 2008 when the band announced its reunion. Of course, unlike so many other bands they’ve been associated with over the years, Hot Water Music kept their four man unit intact from its inception, so the inherent closeness the band has can’t really be overstated. This also makes the band’s current reincarnation something that feels more permanent than just a fleeting reunion tour opportunity. The four might be recognized independently. But as far as most audiences are concerned, they are still Hot Water Music.

However, as much respect as Hot Water Music has garnered over the last decade and a half, they haven’t quite reached the status of a band that people will regard with reverence and awe. They’ve never been that kind of band anyway. None of their songs could be considered hits, even if that definition were narrowed down to encompass “independent music.” In addition, they don’t have the aura that a huge band often possesses. Instead, they’ve always been defined by with something of a blue-collar image, which has been supported by their sound through and through. Hot Water Music is a band that seems as if they have to work for everything they’ve accomplished.

Which may or may not be true, but that’s just the impression the band gives off. A lot of that image revolves around their current front men Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard. Normally, when a band boasts interchangeable – and in songs earlier in their discography, dueling – vocals, the singers’ style will be somewhat different, and in most cases drastically different. That really isn’t the case with Ragan and Wollard, though. 

Labeling their vocal styles “gruff” isn’t quite doing the duo justice. But both singers growl with this weathered rhythm while keeping the screaming to a basic minimum, which wouldn’t be the norm for similar bands. This especially comes into focus when the two are interchanging vocals like they do on “220 Years,” off their album Fuel for the Hate Game. It’s a dynamic that works more for Ragan’s and Wollard’s overriding emotions than anything else.  It’s hard to separate the two when they’re singing. But because of their conviction, it really doesn’t matter.

The real strength of Hot Water Music, though, is the work of bass player Jason Black and drummer Greg Rebelo. The actual rhythm of the band seems somewhat basic, like so many other hard rock bands, until someone actually tries to match their movement to the band and ends up constantly wrong footed. It’s impressive just how much their jazz background comes out in each of the song, as neither is content with merely serving as the backup rhythm section to Ragan’s and Wollard’s songs. Black and Rebelo really make Hot Water Music’s sound unique by pushing their rhythm section front and center.

That uniqueness is really what sets Hot Water Music apart, along with the strength of their song writing abilities. Whether they would live up to the hype that their reunion may have generated was a big question mark hanging over Hot Water Music. Despite their reputation, they didn’t necessarily have a safety net to fall back on during this tour, so there was a lot to live up to. Answering the challenge, and to show that their current reunion wasn’t going to be some flash in the pan, they lived up to it, hopefully priming them for several more productive years together.


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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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