Phillip Morgan ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Since its inception, punk has been pretty much centered around teen angst. Whether it was railing against the government, your parents, the girl/guy who hurt you, or your douchebag boy scout troop leader, punk has become synonymous with youth revolting against that which they find oppressive, no matter how inconsequential it may appear to an outsider. However, some punk bands prefer to tackle the anxieties and fears of young adult life through their music, and while they often gain a more grounded, mature sound and voice they tend to lose some of punk’s youthful energy to the darker atmosphere they surround themselves with. Fortunately, there are exceptions to every rule, and in this case there aren’t many examples as vivid as Philadelphia, PA’s The Menzingers, who played Middle East’s Downstairs Venue back in late October and left all present with a pretty clear image of what a grown-up punk band looks like. And it looks awesome.
About 30 seconds into any of their songs, the distinctions in their sound are pretty apparent, almost like the band is terrified of being instantly labeled as another pop-punk band should they do otherwise. There is a sense of urgency to their sound, but not in the traditional sense of super fast-paced rhythms or anguished howling vocals. Rather, it stems from the earnestness that pours from the band both vocally and musically. All their songs are at a more relaxed tempo (relative to the average punk band), and their melodies, while bright and distorted, are just as deliberate, with the guitars opting for a structure more closely associated with folk-rock but still filtered through punk’s distortion lens. The lack of turbo-speed music also enables them to be more interesting musically, such as bassist Eric Keens’ frequent fills, grooves, and walking lines. Guitarists Tom May and Greg Barnett share lead vocal duties almost evenly, but you’d have a difficult time figuring out who sings which songs if you weren’t watching them live. May and Barnett both share somber, mid-range pseudo-folk voices that remind of Bob Dylan, had he ever gone punk. Barnett occasionally emerges from his heartland gloom to emit a harsh, exasperated howl reminiscent of emo/punk predecessors like Alkaline Trio and Jawbreaker on his songs, which is pretty much the only difference between the pair, but in the context of punk music today is quite unique and allows them to be much more heartfelt and emotional than the majority of their peers without resorting to a nasal whine. (Note: For clarification, Barnett sings on the song “In Remission” above, and May sings on the song “Nice Things” linked below.)
In accordance with their mid-tempo normal speed, The Menzingers are not the most hyperactive onstage, with the members focusing on executing the song as opposed to doing crazy shit all the time. However, that doesn’t mean they were without energy or charisma, as they were clearly enjoying themselves through every song, while Barnett closed his eyes and put his throat on the line for every howled-out passage, which managed to captivate the pit every single time. May, while never indulging in primal yelps, was just as endearing on his turns as frontman, and his slightly deeper, more soulful voice was equally successful at ensnaring attention. Despite the sobering nature of many of their song subjects (including lamenting the loss of friends to substance abuse and suicide and the realization that material gains aren’t making you any happier), The Menzingers are probably one of the most upbeat bands onstage I’ve ever seen, adopting a carefree and conversational nature with their audience. May, Keen, and Barnett all took moments to disclose some fun personal stories as well as speak on weird things they saw in the pit, the most amazing of which was when Tom May addressed the two friends in approximately the third row of the pit dressed up as Mordecai and Rigby from Cartoon Network’s Regular Show, which I personally though was the coolest thing I’d ever seen friends do at a punk show and I deeply regret not having a camera to document it in all its majesty.
If you’re worried that there hasn’t been enough violence for this to constitute a “true” punk show, don’t worry, The Menzingers’ fans have you covered. The lack of a barrier, either physically or mentally, between band and audience pretty much opened the floodgates for all manner of crowd insanity that punk shows have now become infamous for. Seconds into their first song, there was already a mountain of bodies piling in front of Greg Barnett’s mic to sing along. The lower section of the floor never went more than three minutes without some sort of mosh pit. Taller drunk dudes were spraying everyone within a ten foot radius with their cheap beer, and shorter drunk dudes were probably enjoying the shower. Wave after wave of crowdsurfers surfed courageously toward the stage, always missing the band members and their gear by inches. One of my friends still has a black eye from that show after one guy who was moshing too hard elbowed her in the face mid-swing. If this all sounds terrifying to you, worry not, for there is such a thing as punk show etiquette and the crowd that night was exceptionally observant. If a crowdsurfer fell or a kid in the mosh pit got knocked down, they were helped up. If a person was trying to escape the chaos in the front to get water or to just hang back, space was made for them to get there without incident. The true testament to the lack of any sort of rift, however, came during the last song, when Barnett and May both invited everyone to storm the stage and sing the end with them. They were swarmed by a bunch of sweaty punks in about 6 seconds flat, and it says a lot that they were enjoying the moment just as much as their fans were.
Overall, The Menzingers put on one of the most energetic and upbeat shows I’ve seen all year, and their sheer aura of genuine excitement about playing a show and being with people proved highly contagious given the unyielding intensity of the audience. The Menzingers may not be the wildest live or the fastest, catchiest punk band, but there’s no denying the raw talent the band possesses for crafting painfully honest, heartfelt songs and turning their open wounds into emotional catharsis for both speaker and listener. If you’re new to them, they dropped a new LP earlier this year called Rented World via Epitaph Records that you should totally give a listen. Or two. Or ten. And now, in the spirit of me writing this so close to Halloween, I leave you with their most recent video. Enjoy.