Worcester, Massachusetts' the Hotelier, leaders in emo's current wave of popularity, stopped by Toronto's Hard Luck Bar for a night of sincere and anthemic rock last night (September 13), cementing their place in emotive guitar music with the balance and composure of a veteran band while proving their innovation within the so-called "emo revival."
Starting off the show were up-and-comers Remo Drive from Minnesota, playing songs from their cheekily named debut album, Greatest Hits. A large number of newly appointed fans had already learned the words to many of the four-piece's songs, fist-pumping and yelling along in pure pop-punk fashion.
Next, Long Island, New York trio Oso Oso brought their brightly accented melodies, á la early Death Cab for Cutie, to the packed venue. Frontman Jade Lilitri wove clean melodies into his bold guitar riffs and Oso Oso's set, which pulled mostly from their latest album The Yunahon Mixtape, was a nice transition into the potent abandon of the headlining act.
The crowd was buzzing by the time the Hotelier came on stage, and vocalist-bassist Christian Holden paused before taking a deep breath to belt out the emphatic opening lines ("Open the curtains / Singing birds tell me, 'tear the buildings down'") to "An Introduction to the Album" from their beloved 2014 breakout Home, Like Noplace Is There. It was a cue for the choir of a few hundred voices in the sold out room to sing along to the winding, twinkling guitar in the opening song all the way to the defeating "Fuck!" before the rest of the band kicked in and collapsed into the breakdown of Holden's quasi-monologue.
The four-piece rode this high into "The Scope of All of This Rebuilding," a song that finds hope and meaning in resentment and loss, glutted with group chants and callbacks in an intensified two minutes. From here, the Hotelier eased into "Two Deliverances," "Settle the Scar" and "Opening Mail for My Grandmother," some of the more carefully traced and openly sentimental songs from 2016's Goodness.
Later on Home, Like Noplace Is There fan favourite "Your Deep Rest," Holden shouted out the chorus as the crowd followed in alliance: "I called in sick from your funeral, the sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable." Normally this statement would be glum and morose, but the act of yelling it in a room full of impassioned fans was a lesson in catharsis, solidarity and unconditional support.
The difference in audience reaction between the therapeutic release and ripe poignancy of Goodness and the earlier, more relentlessly catchy songs from Home, Like Noplace Is There was noticeable, even though the two records were released only two years apart. The latter's rapid-fire "In Framing" and "Among the Wildflowers" triggered a polite mosh pit and roaring collective sing-along, while newer material seemed to not induce the same sentiment.
Still, the Hotelier's sonic evolution proves that they're not settling for any preconceived path or stereotype the emo genre might have earned them. For the encore, drummer Sam Frederick carried "Goodness Pt. 2" with a simple, repetitive drumbeat and guitarist Chris Hoffman added a similarly constant chiming guitar line — it's unconventional and inventive, and its live arrangement was highly memorable. Goodness's "Piano Player" followed suit, with Holden extracting all possible melody and sensitivity out of a single word ("Sustain!") in the chorus.
Many Hotelier songs deal with both fleeting and prolonged grief and anguish over uncontrolled and tragic events of young adulthood, and the band do an admirable job of translating these ideas onto their records and then into an earnest and irresistible live setting. If there is one band to show emo-naysayers, it should be the Hotelier — they're simply a brilliant rock band, unwilling to be labeled or put into a box.