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Water, water everywhere . . . : H2O at Saratoga Winners. Photo by Eileen Clynes

Stage Diving With Darwin
By Bill Ketzer

H2O, Shai Hulud, Madcap, Murderer’s Row
Saratoga Winners, Aug. 18

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.


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