Hostage Calm is one of a few bands that get me stoked on the current state of hardcore. Since forming in 2007, the band has done nothing but put out quality music and tour in support of it. I have looked forward to the release of their new self-titled album for several months, so I needed to be at their CD release in Connecticut, the final date on their tour in support of the new album.
The show was originally supposed to have been at the Wallingford American Legion, a venue with a history of memorable shows, but moved at the last minute to the Masonic Temple in Cheshire. It was a good thing, because I don’t think the tiny “Am Leg,” as some of us affectionately call it, would have held the hundreds of kids who were at the show by the time my friends and I arrived. We got there just barely missing the opening band, Midi & the Modern Dance.
The first band we were able to see was Cheshire’s own Heavy Breath. I had heard some hype about this band, so I was interested in checking them out. The crowd was definitely stoked for the band right from the opening, and they had a particularly loyal fan dressed as a sort of black spandex ninja, moshing and singing along to every song. By far the heaviest band on the bill, Heavy Breath play a hard but funky-sounding hardcore that calls to mind the guitar wankery laden style of Snapcase, but heavier, and with a dash of Rage Against the Machine funkiness. True to this description, the band closed their set with a guest vocalist, covering Rage’s “Bulls on Parade,” from the album Evil Empire.
The band’s own material didn’t do much for me, with the repetition of riffs in a few of their songs making them feel like they dragged on longer than they needed to, and while they clearly knew how to play their instruments, what they played was not very attention grabbing. Their Rage cover was equally unexciting. If Zach De La Rocha were dead, he’d be spinning in his grave after hearing this cover. The cover received mixed reactions from the crowd, ranging from shakes of the head in amusement, to sing-alongs and moshing. I think Heavy Breath are a band with a lot of potential, and I hope they stay together long enough to realize that potential.
My Heart to Joy took the stage after Heavy Breath. Without much ado the band launched into their set and kids overwhelmed every inch of space up front to sing along. Another homegrown Connecticut favorite, My Heart to Joy play a melodic punk/hardcore that immediately brings comparisons to Hot Water Music or the sound of the Dischord catalog of the ’90s, but through tight and technical playing and intelligent songwriting, they have managed to carve out a sound that is distinctly their own. I enjoyed every second of their set, which confirmed all of the positive buzz that has been circulating around the band. Last year’s Seasons in Verse LP (Top Shelf Records) drew rave reviews and I look forward to checking out their forthcoming seven-inch Reasons to Be (Paper & Plastick Records), which demands the attention of anyone into this style of melodic hardcore.
By the time My Heart to Joy finished rocking out, the venue felt like a blazing sauna somewhere on the surface of the sun, and everyone cleared out to get some cool night air before Title Fight’s set.
Hailing from Kingston, Pennsylvania, Title Fight have been around since about 2004, and in that time have put out at least three seven-inches, the out-of-print Erection Kids Split EP on the defunct Flight Plan Records, the Kingston EP (Six Feet Under), and 2009’s The Last Thing You Forget on Run for Cover Records. My Heart to Joy’s rocking set was a tough act to follow, but Title Fight was up for the challenge. They quickly got the crowd dancing and singing along. I don’t know why, but hearing this band made me think of Texas is the Reason, and they have a bit of a ’90s post-hardcore-but-don’t-call-it-emo sound. Think of them as sort of like Strike Anywhere but with more pop sensibilities.
The crowd response to Title Fight was so huge that at one point the surge of kids dancing and trying to get to the front to sing along nearly knocked over the speaker next to me. The band moved quickly through their set, keeping the energy up and the crowd moving despite the heat in the venue.
After Title Fight’s set almost brought the sound system down, it was time for Hostage Calm to really make things crazy. The last time I saw Hostage Calm was at the With Honor reunion, where they played one of the best sets I could remember. This time around I was excited for more of the same, and the band did not disappoint. Dapperly dressed in button-up shirts and ties, they set up and got ready to rock. When they were finished setting up, they passed the mic to their occasional roadie and merch guy Luc who gave a speech introducing the band. He admonished everyone present to be thankful of the great scene in Connecticut, and all the great local bands, particularly Hostage Calm. When he finished speaking, to much applause, it was time for Hostage Calm to rock, and rock they did.
Playing mostly songs off the new record, the band played by far the best set I’ve seen them play, and the energy of the crowd matched the intensity which the band put into every song. I had heard that the new album was going to be a bit of a departure from their previous sound, and it is, but the new songs are as good — if not better — than all their previous work. The band’s Morrissey influence is very apparent on all the songs from the new record, giving Hostage Calm the sound of a 21st century The Smiths, but with more punk/hardcore sensibilities and less pretension. Highlights from the new record that they played included my favorite of the new songs I’ve heard them play so far: “War on a Feeling,” along with “Jerry Rumspringer,” “Rebel Fatigues,” and “Young Professionals.” The more I hear these new songs played live, the more I dig all of them, and the crowd around me felt much the same way. Though the new record is still practically warm from the presses, swaths of kids already knew the words to every song and swarmed Chris Martin to sing their lungs out with him.
By far, though, the most entertaining part of Hostage Calm’s set was when they played “Audible,” the second track off the Lens record. In the middle of the song, at a riff change, the band suddenly paused instead of heading straight into the next riff, catching the audience off guard as they went to sing along to the next part, but with no music playing. After pausing just long enough to throw everyone, and cause laughs all around, the band flawlessly launched into the expected riff, and rocked out through the rest of the song. From my perspective, it’s not clear whether the pause was accidental, or intentional (it isn’t on the record), but the band pulled it off so well live, and it sounded so natural when they did it, that it was as if it was meant to be there.
The band played a bit shorter set than I expected, but out of respect for the temperature in the venue and the Cheshire police waiting outside to enforce curfew laws, they closed their set and thanked everyone for coming out. I left the show completely won over to the new sound that Hostage Calm have moved towards, and with a copy of the new album in my hands just screaming to be ripped open and spun the second I got home. If you have yet to see Hostage Calm, get a copy of the new album, get to one of their shows, and join me and all the other kids in the room who will be up front to sing along to one of the best bands in hardcore.