water everywhere . . . : H2O at Saratoga Winners.
Photo by Eileen Clynes
Diving With Darwin
By Bill Ketzer
H2O, Shai Hulud, Madcap, Murderer’s Row
American hardcore and punk are perfect examples of Darwin’s
theory of survival of the fittest, where each slight variation,
if useful, is preserved. It’s an infamously incestual realm
where players are traded, loaned and squeezed into every possible
combination. These extraordinarily extended families create
and distribute unbelievable quantities of music: some failing
the litmus test altogether, some becoming merely collectable,
and others gradually earning a role as keynote speaker for
generations of restless youth.
H2O, created by former Sick of It All roadie Toby Morse and
stabilized with former members of Shelter and other greats,
are indelibly part of the latter category. With little fanfare,
they burst onto the old roadhouse stage to school the kids
spot-on with powerful, uplifting stuff. Whipping up the faithful
with tried-and-true chestnuts like “Everready,” “Guilty by
Association” and the perennial “Family Tree,” the guys upheld
the classic structures, sing-song melodies and positive messages
that promote all the dancing and screaming that makes life
better, so long as you’re not the poor sucker up front getting
his head stepped on.
Priding themselves on maintaining close ties to family and
fans, the brothers Morse and company are clearly at the peak
of their powers, with arms gladly wrapped around stage-diving
miscreants while a thick wall of guitars fueled the shrewd
Vans Warped favorite “I See It in Us” and the unassuming “One
Life, One Chance.” Despite news of their recent deal with
MCA Records, H2O manage to maintain NYC hardcore credibility
beneath catchy hooks and the very deliberate exclusion of
any negative energy. This is not music for loners.
Like the headliner, L.A.’s Madcap subscribed predominantly
to the aforementioned street-punk “formula,” although their
skinny ties and somewhat shiny veneer seemed to vex the young
punks to somewhat of a standstill. Drawing mostly from their
excellent Stand Your Ground CD, Madcap offered a prime
example of how the once glaring differences between West and
East Coast punk are slowly finding a middle ground, sometimes
through Brit influence, for better or worse. I enjoyed it,
but other crowd members weren’t buying it.
They did, however, certainly buy Shai Hulud, who didn’t pledge
allegiance to the loftier goals of positive thinking or correct
action, much less remain inside the tried-and-true power-chord
box. To my surprise, they instead literally sprinted onto
the stage in an apocalyptic, razor-sharp grand mal spasm,
inspiring the most intense dance pit of the evening. Spraying
epileptic, percussive bursts of energy interspersed with blast
beats and howls from the asylum, these guys offered much more
of a purgative approach than their hosts with subtle ditties
like “A Profound Hatred for Man” and “My Heart Bleeds the
Darkest Blood.” Funny thing is, they don’t look even close
to mean. They look like bike messengers.
Bob Riley and other veterans of the original Troycore scene
kicked off the night with their own brand of working-class
barroom street punk, appropriately dubbed Murderer’s Row.
At once anthemic, gritty and boozy, the lads have successfully
created an inspiring (albeit quite streamlined, by their standards)
successor to Stigmata and other Collar City acts that suitably
portrays the harsh social conditions and hard-won battles
of that once-burgeoning urban landscape.
Punk may never upset the religious applecart the way Darwin
did in the 19th century, but it is living proof that natural
selection still works.