Hot Hot Heat
September 24, 2010
By Chris Ryan
Photo by Charlene Tupper
A rolling, thunderous kick drum and slap-to-the-face snare is fine for a wide variety of music. Unfortunately, when it comes to dance-punk it simply overrides the synth, drowns the bass and muddies the vocals.
Hot Hot Heat, just off the American leg of their current tour with Hey Rosetta, were tight, energetic and at total ease on stage but the sound and lighting systems were a fairly serious damper on their homecoming show. The lighting units were blinding when in full colour mode and not the, “Wow, that’s intense,” but more in a "I think I’m damaging my eyes," kind of way. Glancing around the dance floor, a large number of people were shielding their eyes or actually moved off the floor. Add to this an incredibly overbearing kick drum that made almost any lyrical contributions null and void, and you have a band swimming up-stream trying to capture their audience.
At times it was hard to pick out exactly what song was being played, and the vast majority of lead singer Steve Bays’ vocals were not understandable.
The crowd was definitely pumped for the Heat but by the sixth or seventh tune, a third of the crowd had left the dance floor and were on their way home.
The ‘dance-punk’ moniker is a bit debatable for the Heat’s new recording Future Breeds. It is a solid album that is more Eighties-retro than punk, but from the blistering off-tempo intro from the band until the end, the only real dancing occurred during some of their pop favourites like Middle of Nowhere and Goodnight Goodnight. In the newer songs, there really was not much room in the overwhelming sonic blanket for a body to find a groove, or rhythm, to latch on to.
That being said, each song, upon ending, received a hearty response and many in the crowd looked past the cacophony and fed upon the band’s polished stage performance and the thoroughly relaxed atmosphere they constructed.
Bays spoke with the crowd as if he were heading up a kick-ass high school assembly and rocking out with good friends. His unique vocal style can be polarizing but is a great match with his intermittent synth lines and Luke Paquin’s guitar waves, when distinguishable. Although the actual words were rarely clear, the pitch and tone of Bay’s singing added a welcome melody in the midst of some disorienting mash ups of their songs with more complex tempos.
The band is definitely in an exploratory phase and one has to give them credit for venturing so far outside the style that has won them fame. There is no doubt that Future Breeds is the first step in a new direction and time will certainly help clarify whether the band will define a dancier base, or continue down the exploding, bulldozing bass and rhythms, reminiscent of The Horrors.
Hot Hot Heat is continuing across Canada and into the UK until the end of October, so nail down some dates and get out to see one of Canada’s most successful pop sensations chart a new path, and, hopefully, the drums won’t give you a beating.