This past year Hot Water Music made a slight ripple when they announced they were coming off what was supposed to be a permanent hiatus. This news officially put on hold the Draft – the group formed by Hot Water Music members after the departure of Chuck Ragan – and Chuck Ragan’s foray into the fad of punk-rocker turned Americana-folkster. Since reuniting in October of 2007, the Gainsville, Fla., group has only managed to release a B-sides compilation and play sporadic reunion dates.
When I arrived at the Gothic Theater on Sunday night, the venue seemed pretty vacant for a “reunion show.” During opener Only Thunder’s set of dated butt-rock that macerated as post-hardcore, the Gothic was as full as a Rockies vs. Padres game. There’s a chance that Hot Water Music’s elder fanbase has the timing of shows down to a science – that or they were all out smoking. By the time the headliners were about to take the stage, the pit had mostly filled in. However, it wasn’t packed. As mariachi music rang and the band took the stage, I began to wonder if it was worth it for Hot Water Music to reunite and put the promise of their other projects on hold, considering the last time I saw the Draft they were drawing similar sized crowds.
When the band went into their first song, “Rooftops,” the small but passionate audience showed that it’s not the size of the crowd that matters, it’s the commitment. The band raced through the first six songs of the set without taking a break, starting strong with “Rooftops” and “Wayfrarer” – two songs that had the crowd screaming along with all the “Whoas!” while throwing their fists in the air. “Paper Thin” kept the chanting sing-along rolling. Hot Water Music only took a brief breath to ask how the crowd was doing before jumping right back into their set, but moments later the band stopped because a fight had broken out in front of the stage. Everyone had to wait for security to escort the rabble-rousers out of the theater before the show could continue. This lead to screams of, “You f**king suck!” and other cat calls. Meanwhile Chuck Ragan held up a half-full plastic cup and said, “The only good thing is I have a little glass of Colorado whiskey.”
After the pause the band went into the aptly appropriate “Jack of All Trades” hollering “Give me a reason not to lash out!” as crowd chanted the refrain of “HEY!” This was followed by one of the most epic drumstick tosses of all time during “Choked and Separated.” Midway through the song, drummer George Rebelo pulled a Henry Rowengartner and launched his stick that made a beeline to the back of the theater near the bar. I thought this was going to be the craziest thing I’d see all night, but I was proven wrong one song later when Mike from Denver band Skyrise to Martus (who were not affiliated with the show in any way) jumped on stage and grabbed the mic and kept singing along despite the efforts of the roadies to restrain him. The band went along with it and Ragan shared his mic after the first one was cut. After the song was over, Ragan said he wanted to buy Mike a beer. Mike made two more appearances on stage throughout the rest of the show, becoming some kind of phantom of the rock show.
The latter half of the show didn’t go without its share of hiccups. At one point Jason Black’s bass amp blew out and drummer Rebelo went into an impromptu breakdown showing off his skills as an accomplished jazz musician behind the kit while Ragan and Chris Wollard spoke about how they were dumbfounded by the “energy and support,” and to be honest, so was I. But as the band wrapped up their set with “Remedy” and “Things on a Dashboard” before the obligatory encore, I realized why Hot Water Music regrouped and ditched the promise of an acoustic solo career or a strong debut that could have taken the Draft to new heights. They love playing together. Plus Ragan and Wollard are probably the only two people, outside of Blake Schwarzenbach, who can harmonize their gravelly vocals. On Sunday night, there was a chemistry between the members that were not there during the Draft’s performances – a chemistry that certainly could not be found when Chuck Ragan was sitting alone on a stool.
Kevin O’Brien is a Denver writer and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.
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