To celebrate 25 years since the inception of their band (hiatuses not included), Hot Water Music showed some extra love to fans by playing not one, but two dates in each city on their tour. The band was in Montreal this past Wednesday and Thursday, playing their 1999 album No Division one night, and their 2002 album Caution the following night.
The Corona Theatre was the emptiest I’ve ever seen it upon entering. The pit in front of the stage was virtually barren, though it slowly filled up when The Fullblast from Oakville, Ontario, walked on stage. Formed in 2000, the band was a Canadian pop-punk titan up until they called it quits in 2007. But, ten years later, the band reunited to release their EP Attack.Sustain.Decay and got together to play a few shows together. But I can only imagine their joy when they found out they’ll be opening for Hot Water Music (based on their style, I assume HWT was a major influence for them).
Next up were Bucketlist favorites Cancer Bats, opening with an oldie but a goodie, “Golden Tanks” from their 2006 debut Birthing The Giant. At this point, I was so used to them opening with “Gatekeeper” off their latest album The Spark That Moves that it threw me off. It was also great to see the return of guitarist Scott Middleton, taking a break from his fatherly duties (as was the case for most audience members). Even if you only know a few of the words to their songs, if Liam Cormier catches you singing along, he can make you feel like the only person in the room. Cormier spoke to the audience in French with a heavy Ontarian accent, hyping his excitement for the headlining act: “J’aime Florida. J’aime les barbes.” With so many bangers in their set, I wonder if Cancer Bats would play the same songs the following night, or switch it up a bit. After all, they have a pretty extensive discography to pick from.
The lights went down, and the sound of chanting came from the speakers. Taking their place onstage, Hot Water Music exploded into “Southeast First.” The crowd was ecstatic to see Chuck Ragan’s beaming beardy smile, and to hear his rough-as-sandpaper melodies. On the other side of the stage, filling in for guitarist Chris Wollard, was Chris Cresswell of famed Canadian punk act The Flatliners, who chewed gum throughout the performance while emulating Wollard’s vocals effortlessly.
Considering I was still wetting the bed at the time No Division was released, and had only listened to the album in full for the first the day of the show, I think it’s safe to say it didn’t have as much of an impact on my life as it did with most of the audience present. I was struck with a sense of impostor syndrome standing so close to the stage, surrounded by fans who sang along to every word. Hell, one guy near the front looked like he had a spiritual experience.
The night didn’t end with “In Song,” the final track off No Division. A stagehand brought out an acoustic guitar, and the bassist and drummer took a break so Ragan could do an acoustic version of “State of Grace,” the full band rejoining in the middle “Drag My Body.” As I’m more familiar with Ragan’s folk solo project, it felt like I was getting the best of both of his worlds. From there, Hot Water Music jumped around their repertoire, playing newer tracks from their 2017 album Light It Up like “Never Coming Back” and “Vultures.” They also gave a preview of what to expect for the following night, playing the first two tracks off Caution, before closing with their 1997 classic “Turnstile.”
I can’t imagine too many people bought tickets for both nights (unless they got the Cyber Monday deal), safe for the die-hard fans. Most people on a budget would have to pick which album they like more, or in my case, go on whatever night you can get off work. So even though I’m a couple decades late to the party, I definitely understand the appeal of Hot Water Music and their ability to breathe hope into our mundane lives.
Written by Chris Aitkens
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*Edited by Dominic Abate