Album Review: Hot Water Music- “Live in Chicago”

Not too long ago I saw Hot Water Music live for the first time in my life. It was as thrilling and cathartic as the band’s fans would have us believe, but with it came that sense of concrete awareness that it not only happened, but it happened to me. I walked away from the event with a sense of weighty knowingness, assured of the fact that I had just collected a new and treasured memory.

Maybe I like Live in Chicago so much because it reminds me of that sweaty night, but screaming along to “Remedy” with beardos in the pit isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to appreciation. The truth is, Hot Water Music is an amazing live band with a great catalog and Live in Chicago captures them at their best, playing their best.

It took me a long time to make peace with the concept of a live album. I admittedly held a certain dislike for the form. The live album, to me, has always been a poorly recorded consolation prize of songs you already knew. For a lot of bands it’s way of putting out a place-holder release before new music is pressed, like a contrived attempt at maintaining a fluid and consistent discography. Recently though, my mind has been changed. Being a grown-up that goes to shows I’ve since discovered the magic of live performance, but besides that there is a more obvious rallying point. The age old Hot Water Music fan will love Live in Chicago as it’s an accessible reminder of their favorite bands performance prowess. But what about the new fan, or even the punk who doesn’t know he’s a fan yet? What the live album has to offer is a starting point. Jumping into a band with such an established discography can be intimidating, and I’ve been there myself many times. Live in Chicago offers songs cherry-picked across Hot Water Music’s career, with all of their changes in sounds and progression through the years as a moot point– all of it falling into the cohesion of the here and now. Live in Chicago is a greatest hits album in a way, but it’s one that validates it’s own existence. It’s not a cash grab. For some, it’s a record of a memory, for other it’s an introduction.

The recording was taken on February 1st and 2nd, 2008 in Chicago. These dates were in the midst of Hot Water Music’s reunion, and being five years old obviously lack tracks from Exister. The majority of the songs played are from their middle period, with A Flight and a Crash being the most represented, followed by No Division and Caution. Although they do cover a chunk of older material, with a good showing from Forever and Counting, I was a bit disappointed to see a measly two songs from my personal favorite, Fuel for the Hate Game. In all fairness though, I painstakingly researched the setlist and cross-referenced them with their album of origin and only felt (very mildly)  jilted after I saw the numbers. Listening to Live in Chicago in the moment, I only felt the enthusiastic curiosity of an adventurer, hearing each song as if I had never heard it before.

The DVD included in Live in Chicago is also a real treat. It features a live video recording, with excellent sound quality of the second night Hot Water Music played in Chicago. The video offers the listener a couple of songs not included on the live album, adding a little more incentive to sit down and watch. What I found most compelling was actually watching Hot Water Music perform. You get a sense of their technicality and precision listening to them, but actually seeing them play, fret notes, and sing gives a whole other perspective. I found myself walking away with a new sense of respect for Hot Water Music, admiring the complexity of their musical division of labor and just how necessary every member is to their sound.

I’m a Hot Water Music fan, and accordingly I love this release. And for someone like me, who doesn’t go to shows too often, this is a nice reminder of the energy music can create. Live in Chicago is an excellent addition to any fan’s collection and a great starting point for the unconverted, but more so, it’s an incredibly enjoyable collection of songs played with the emotion and intensity every punk expects from his or her music.

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