In support of their latest (and arguably their greatest) album, Use Your Voice, NYC hardcore vets H2O rolled through frontman Toby Morse’s birth state of Massachusetts to play before a sold-out crowd in the notoriously hot, sweaty confines of the upstairs music hall at the legendary Middle East nightclub in Cambridge. Now in their third decade as a band, and composed of some different parts than previous touring incarnations of the band, Morse and company continue to prove themselves as one of the tightest, most inspiring acts in the game.
The band’s lineup on the Use Your Voice tour is equal parts old and new, with founding members Morse and Rusty Pistachio (guitar) and longtime bassist Adam Blake joined by touring guitarist Colin McGinnis (None More Black) and special guest drummer Branden Steineckert (Rancid). Perhaps understandably, then, the band’s encore-less set was a tad on the short side (my incredibly unofficial count tallied 17 songs, though one was a cover of half of the Rancid classic “Journey To The End Of The East Bay”), but still paid a great deal of respect to classic tracks (“Guilty By Association,” “Family Tree,” “FTTW,” etc) and new songs (“Black Sheep,” “Skate!,” “True Romance”) alike.
While admittedly never the world’s largest hardcore fan, I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan of H2O over the last two decades, particularly because I’ve long felt that they fit right in at the more aggressive end of the mid-90’s punk music scene, and got short-changed in the process. I understand full well that I’m wading deep into hyperbole-infested waters here, but I can say without question that this particular Wednesday night was the best, tightest, and most positively inspiring set I’ve seen the various incarnations of H2O play over the last eighteen years, a show history that includes a mix of festival dates (Warped Tour) alongside opening slots for bands like Rancid and Face To Face. They’ve been a bit of a musical Haley’s Comet in terms of releasing new music for more than a decade (Use Your Voice marks their first original studio album since 2008’s Nothing To Prove, which itself was their first album since 2001’s Go), and have increasingly managed the second phase of their careers in an admirable fashion, balancing home and personal duties with the decreasingly lucrative field that is life as a “working musician.” Still, the perhaps “smarter-not-harder” approach to touring has given the band the energy and life it needs for sustainability going forward.
Support on this leg of the Use Your Voice tour came from the likes of Angel Du$t and Give. Neither band was familiar to me prior to the show (remember that thing about me not being the world’s biggest hardcore fan), but both definitely left an impression. Angel Du$t, for the uninitiated, are a Baltimore-based five-piece that features members of bands like Trapped Under Ice, Turnstile, and Diamond Youth. Their set was, in a word, ferocious; another showgoer who was also previously unaware of the band commented that he liked how “it seems like they’ve played 30 songs, because each one is like 45 seconds long.” Give, meanwhile, are a DC-based five-piece who hearken back to the glory days of DC hardcore, if those glory years were crossed with Seattle in 1991. Fun band to watch, though the former band certainly got the crowd more whipped up than the latter did. (Editor’s note: Lowell, MA, bilingual hardcore outfit Los Bungalitos opened the show, though I missed the bulk of their set for traffic-related reasons. I blame Ben Affleck.)
Check out our photo gallery of Give, Angel Du$t and of course, the mighty H2O below.