The first time I saw H2O was 15 years ago at the Limelight club with Sick of It All and Civ. It was Civ’s first show in New York and right around when Sick of It All released “Scratch the Surface.” H2O may have had a demo out, but it was well before their 7” on Blackout Records was released. For some reason, I remember my sister having seen H20 a couple of weeks before, opening for Shelter, and bragging about them. Either way, I remember being unbelievably amped for Civ, I’m a huge Gorilla Biscuits fan, very excited and more than a little scared to see Sick of It all, and couldn’t have cared less about H2O. On that day, Toby Morse, the lead singer for H20, came out dressed like an outcast from Revenge of the Nerds, and the band started with an acoustic number. Seconds later, Toby had shed his costume and the band had launched into some super-positive, melodic hardcore – it was bedlam. Maybe not Sick of It All bedlam, but for a band that didn’t have a recording out and was playing only their fourth or fifth show, H20 got a huge reaction from the crowd – I counted myself amongst the smitten.
Over the years I would become not only a huge H20 fan, but a friend. I’ve seen them a zillion times, hung out with them, partied with them, and even had them take over my apartment in Amherst, Massachusetts when I was a junior in college. Heck, I have one tattoo, and it is an H20 tattoo. Of course things have changed since the late nineties, I no longer go to hardcore shows every weekend, heck, I rarely go out at all. Today, I’m 33, married, have a beautiful daughter and a career – all unimaginable when I was stage diving to “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” at the old Coney Island High on St. Mark’s Place. I only say this to provide some background into my mindset as I proceed to the new Knitting Factory in Brooklyn to see H20’s 15th anniversary show. 15 years had passed since H20 formed and 15 years have also passed since I first saw them.
The new Knitting Factory is much better than the old one, but just understand that instead of the sweaty shoebox that the old Factory was, the new one is wide open with a huge stage and tons of room to maneuver. This show was the third H20 anniversary show, following ones in Philadelphia and New York. Unlike the prior shows, the only opening band was The Attack from Florida – who we missed. The prior shows had Maximum Penalty and Trapped Under Ice opening – two bands I really would have like to see. There were rumors flying around that Gorilla Biscuits and/or Killing Time would be opening up – but neither came true. Another minus was that while the New York show featured guest appearances from Civ and Lou Koller – neither made it out to the County of Kings. Finally, when H20 took the stage, Toby looked absolutely worn out, even stating that he hadn’t slept before and that his voice was shot. We were not off to a good start.
Fortunately, H20 as a band, have a great stage presence, and by the third song, the crowd reaction had clearly gotten to them and they were positively rocking. Flanked by guitarists Rusty Pistachio and Todd Morse and bassist Adam Blake, Toby got a boost to his vocals thanks to very eager crowd participation. Drummer Todd Friend, always one of my favorites to watch – the guys just kills his drum kit, provided the funniest moment of the night by signing Freddy Madball’s part on “Guilty by Association (this is much funnier when you consider that Todd Friend is one of the most soft spoken individuals on this planet and Freddy Madball is, well…Freddy Madball). The sound in the place was weak, the guitars sounded thin, I took my earplugs out at one point to see if they were blocking too much sounds, but it turned out it was just the way the place was wired. Under the circumstances the band was super tight, except two forgettable attempts at covers they used to perform “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube and “Bad Boys” by some reggae group, they really ran through the songs like the professionals that they were.
As for the set list, the band played almost everything you would expect to hear. They played “5 Year Plan”, “Scene Report”, “Spirit of ‘84”, “Family Tree”, “Hi-Lo”, “Universal Language”, “One Life, One Chance”, “Empty Pockets”, “Faster Than the World”, and almost the entire new album on Bridge 9. I would have liked to have heard “I Know Why” and “Follow the Three Way”, but other then that, I have no real complaints about the set. I was most amazed by the reaction the new songs received. The audience was a very young one, it is clear H20 has connected with the newer kids, and they went bonkers for the new songs, something I was not expecting. Above all, H20 shows are about fun and this one delivered. By the end of the set there was nothing but smiles on the stage and from the kids in the audience and that’s what hardcore should be about.
Written by: Adam Dlugacz