Sunday night was a strange one to be at Summit Music Hall. In front of the venue, the overflow from the neighboring Sports Column suspiciously eyed smokers awaiting the music next door. Inside, a crowd of punk fans grew impatient for the music to start as the 49ers’ promising 3rd-quarter rally dissolved on a projection screen. But the strangeness of location and timing only added to a show that became, at least for me, a tribute to punk rock’s enduring power and relevance. Punk is in its third decade of rejecting everything the Super Bowl stands for. So it seemed fitting that a dedicated clutch of misfits would find comfort in each other and the music they love on an evening like this.
The show began with the Menzingers, whose rough, anthemic brand of working-class punk blends the physicality of mosh-pit-fodder with thoughtful songwriting. The different vocal styles of the two singers, Greg Barnett and Tom May, build a sort of dialogue, cutting even their darkest lyrics with a lighter, more hopeful element.
La Dispute, which seemed most popular with the no-wristband set, filled the pit and brought a significantly harder-hitting sound. The crowd shouted lyrics back with such force that frontman Jordan Dreyer only sang about two-thirds of the lyrics for the last few songs, letting the fans take on screaming duty. Dreyer’s shout out to Hot Water Music felt like a plea for fans to stick around for the next band. He mentioned listening to HWM as a teenager, and how it helped him realize that “We’re all going through the same thing.” Despite this, I noticed many of the younger fans filtering out of the pit as unanswered chants for “one more song!” dissipated and the house music started again.
HWM took the stage next and hammered through old and new songs with Chuck Ragan’s characteristic rasp breaking out of song mode for only brief moments to thank to the crowd and identify new songs. HWM’s sound has remained consistent, with new songs blending seamlessly with older favorites. But it’s OK to be a one-trick pony if you’ve got a good trick, and HWM’s “trick” is to connect on a deep, enduring level with the crowd. While the opening bands spoke to the rawness of youthful frustration, HWM’s set came from a place of hard-earned, rough-edged punk wisdom. Though the band was not the most kinetic onstage presence last night, HWM had the crowd slam-dancing until the last strains of “Turnstile,” the last song, died. Leaving the venue, I was pleased to see that at least a few of the kids who were screaming along to La Dispute had stayed for Hot Water music. I like to hope they met a few punk veterans in the pit, and felt a little less alone.
Cassandra Schoon is a Denver freelance writer and regular Reverb contributor.
Seth A. McConnell is a staff photographer for the YourHub section of the Denver Post and is a regular contributor to Reverb.