LIVE: Hot Water Music @ SWX, Bristol

By Rob Dand

Rolling into Bristol on a poetically warm, rain-soaked Friday night, Hot Water Music arrive ready to kick off a celebratory UK run that culminates at Manchester Punk Festival. Armed with 30 years of genre-defining material (certainly a solid decade of which remains hugely influential), this is something like their very own low-key ‘Eras’ tour. While ticket sales are unlikely to smash records or boost local economies, and it’s doubtful that vibrations from the crowd will generate seismic activity, more wholesome accolades involving the highest number of beards, flannel and undiagnosed lower back complaints in one room should be a shoe-in.

An understated hip-hop mixtape sets an enjoyable but deceptively relaxed tone for a band who, despite their advancing years, rarely come of the gate with anything less than all humbuckers blazing, and as they spark things off with the riot-inducing ‘Remedy’, it’s clear that tonight will be no different.

Bassist Jason Black stalks the centre of the stage like a lion guarding a fresh kill, laying the thick bedrock of the band’s sound. He is flanked on either side by the interweaving guitars and vocals of the inimitable powerhouse that is Chuck Ragan, and Flatliners frontman Chris Cresswell, a touring partner only since 2020 and permanent writing member since 2021, but clearly a key part of the band’s evolving sound. Founding member Chris Wollard doesn’t tour with the band anymore, and his absence is felt, but Cresswell is more than just an avatar here, liberally drizzling his signature howl over some older songs and introducing a new energy into tour-hardened material.

The setlist doesn’t quite cover the full four corners of the band’s recorded output, but nine of their ten studio albums so far are represented, reaching as far back as 1997’s ‘Fuel for the Hate Game’. ‘Turnstile’ in particular is such a good song that a band named themselves after it. In a wholesome full-circle moment, the Turnstile-featuring new album ‘Vows’ appears to be just around the corner, and three new songs get live debuts this evening. This tour may be a 30th anniversary celebration, but it’s clear that one eye always remains on the next project.

For well over an hour, the band rattle through an arsenal of up-tempo punk-adjacent bangers, showcasing the furious energy of ‘A Flight and a Crash’ alongside massive melodic peaks like ‘Wayfarer’ and ‘Drag My Body’, as well as some of their more abrasive earlier work like ‘Rooftops’ and ‘Manual’. There’s a noticeable but subtle variety among the distorted guitars and gruff vocals, with subject matter rooted in earthbound balladry. This might be the first night of the tour, but it feels like things have quickly clicked into place.

The aforementioned ‘Remedy’ and an equally raucous ‘Trusty Chords’ bookend the night, both fan favourite cuts from 2002 record ‘Caution’, a much-loved entry in their canon and probably their commercial peak to boot.

Joking aside, and ignoring two short spells spent on hiatus, a three-decade stint in this industry is an impressive feat, and Hot Water Music have evolved into veterans of the scene. Older, wiser, hairier and maybe a little less rough around the edges, but every bit as vital and authentic as they were when they set out.