The Menzingers Prove The Party Is Still Alive Kicking Off Their European Tour
Cover photo: Epitaph Records
I don't know how often The Menzingers play small club shows anymore. Given the extent to which the Philadelphia punks have blown up during the last five years, it's probably a rare occasion. The Talking Heads, Southampton feels like a small club, a 260 capacity venue on the outskirts of the city center. I like it immediately, and not only because they have Shedhead (American Pale Ale) on tap, although this is certainly a factor. It's a classy little venue, intimate but not claustrophobic, hardwood floors meeting carpet as the room extends. It seems a nice place to grab a cold cider with friends on a Sunday afternoon. Tonight though, it's a Tuesday and any ciders enjoyed will be done so in the company of The Menzingers, The Flatliners and The Dirty Nil during the first gig of a two-week European spring tour.
Standing to my right at the bar is a middle-aged gentleman in a leather jacket, buying a beer and two lemonades for his two teenage sons, who are stood to his right. He's got a Minor Threat patch sewn onto the back of his jacket. One of the sons is wearing a Joyce Manor sweater, the other a Modern Baseball t-shirt. I find this way cooler than I probably should and, looking around the venue from my spot in the crowd, I notice a variety of characters gathered together - ranging from old-school punks to fifteen-year-olds in Vans and khaki shorts. I count two mohawks as Ontario's The Dirty Nil take to the stage only fifteen minutes after doors, to a crowded room.
Although the smallest band on the bill, and most likely the least known among spectators, the audience warms to the dynamic three-piece immediately. Maybe it's the charisma of frontman Luke Bentham, who walks on stage, shouts “Y'alright!” and then proceeds to blow a mouthful of bubblegum as if he's the most carefree man in Southampton. For some reason, he reminds me of Jim Carrey in The Mask. His early antics set the tone for the band's nine-song set, which is thunderously good fun and highly entertaining. The Dirty Nil steamrolls their way from big song to big song, pausing for some lively exchanges for the crowd; Bentham also occasionally posing for the cameras. The three-piece, essentially, are everything a good rock-n-roll opener should be. They're dynamic and straight to the point, epitomized when Bentham declares, “This song is about having no weaknesses, it's called No Fucking Weaknesses,” before launching into said song.
It's a killer set, which ends on a high. "We're gonna leave you with a ripper," bassist Ross Miller declares, and the band does, ensuring that all who've seen them are bound to be at least a little curious about the band going forwards.
It's a tough act for fellow Canadians The Flatliners, to follow, but thankfully the Richmond Hill punks are more than capable. After fifteen years in the game, and currently touring in support of latest record Inviting Light, their set is polished and goes off without a hitch. It begins with black and red lighting as the band collectively build to their opening song, "Caskets Full," which immediately has people bouncing. It's the sort of early hallmark that you expect of veteran punks but, for some reason, the crowd doesn't respond as such for the majority of the bands set. By the fourth song, things have fallen a little flat, although not for the band's lack of trying. “Y'all just get off work or something?” frontman Chris Cresswell asks.
Even stranger, considering that a good amount of the crowd have seen the band before, indicated by hands raised after guitarist Scott Brigham inquires. Maybe many in the audience were simply distracted by the variety of faces bassist Jon Darbey seemed to pull every time he stepped towards the mic. I'll admit that I was (if only a little).
The Flatliners give an energetic show, even though this energy is not always reciprocated, and end with a few excellent songs causing the levels to rise again. Fan request "Liver Alone" is a firm highlight, and the conversation preceding its playing is a humorous one - “I hear you, buddy, I've heard you every time.”
Rousing set closer 'Eulogy' encapsulates the band's spirit, closing off a gritty twelve song set which is one with heart, even if not everybody in the venue seems to be feeling it as much as the band themselves are.
Things are in high spirits after The Flatliners' emphatic close, which bodes well considering the good-time ethos of tonight's headliners. I've been lucky enough to see The Menzingers a few times now, enough times to say with confidence that they're a band who never really disappoints. As such, my own expectations are high, but I don't expect to be let down. I'm not. The lights dim, and Beastie Boys track 'Intergalactic' plays as the Philadelphia punks take to the stage, launching quickly into a set packed with nothing but hits - hits taken almost exclusively from the second half of the band's discography. The Menzingers, with the strength of their back catalog, have the privilege of being able to pluck songs from any of their last three LPs and guarantee that they'll go down a storm with the majority of expectant crowds.
Tonight's setlist showcases the band at their on-record best, and in a live environment these tracks take on a whole new nature due to their raucously anthemic nature. Early selections from the band's latest LP After The Party quickly prove that the party is very much alive, as "Tellin Lies," the first track from said LP, kicks things off with a bang. In following that up with "I Don't Want To Be An Asshole Anymore," 2014 LP Rented World opener, The Menzingers are already off to a winner, and the latter track sees the crowd shout the title back as if they'd penned the lyrics themselves.
This is how the rest of the set develops, the four band members somewhat static on stage while the quality of their songs and live performance do the work on the audience. I quickly abandon my post at the rear of the venue and dive on in, belting lines knowing that they'll be drowned out by the hundred or so other people in the room yelling them also. It's an electric atmosphere closest to the band, as the feet of stage divers skim the light fixtures hanging from the low-ceilinged room while security try to intervene despite already having lost the individual to the throng further back. It's exactly the kind of feel-good environment a Menzingers gig deserves, and in between songs I can't help but note the smiles scattered throughout the crowd. People are enjoying this, caught up in the nostalgia of the songs and the kinetic pulse of the moment. I'm beaming myself, and wouldn't know how to stop myself from doing otherwise.
“We're touring with two Canadian bands right now, so I wore my tuxedo for them” guitarist and vocalist Greg Barnett jokes, gesturing to the 'old jean jacket' he's wearing.
He goes to add, "This next song is about Canada, it's called Rodents.”
It's jovial banter, and when "Rodents" is in full flow those feeling it are jubilant. Several songs later Barnett pauses to hold up a single shoe, which has somehow ended up on stage.
“We dig it. If you want it back just collect it after the show,” he announces.
I don't stay after the show to find out what happens to the shoe, because I don't really care. Walking out of The Talking Heads, I don't care about much, I'm just glad to have experienced such a gig, humming encore track 'Lookers' all the way to the train station. I'm thoroughly content, knowing that The Menzingers, and their supports, have kicked off their brief European tour in style.
Long live the party, and long live The Menzingers.
Any remaining tickets for the bands current tour can be found here.