“Did anybody here go to Temple?” Greg Barnett asked a packed house at The Fillmore last night, and befittingly, a large portion of the Philly crowd screamed. Barnett smirked, and continued “I’m sorry about that.”
In lesser hands, it could have been a diss, some jockish taunting to stoke whatever higher educational rivalries were seemingly in need of being stoked. But that’s not what the co-frontman of The Menzingers was doing here, as he introduced “Midwestern States” — a song he said was about his last semester at college — and the crowd knew it. They laughed loud at his quip, they cheered en masse.
They knew that these four dudes, despite being the center of attention for 2,500 spectators over the course of 90 minutes last night, was no different from them. Adrift in their late 20s and early 30s, feeling overlooked and tossed aside from self-absorbed older generations who won’t step out of the way, unsure of what they wasted their youth on, unsure of what their place was in this world that’s messier and less compassionate by the day.
This is one of the core themes of After the Party, The Menzingers’ excellent fifth LP — their most mature work, and their work most explicitly about maturing — and that restless discontent is the backbone of “Midwestern States.” As Barnett howled for the Fillmore:
Been having problems with our landlord
He said he’s taking us both to court
She got her hours slashed
And my unemployment’s drying up fast
We both got worthless diplomas from worthless universities
Two bachelors in worthless studies
But at least it made our parents happy
And cost a whole lot of money
It’s an experience that most people go through to a degree; feelings that most people have felt. And The Menzingers turn those feelings and experiences into empowering anthems; galvanizing guitar riffs, racing beats, hooks that are short, memorable and repeated heavily, offering ample opportunity for cathartic screamalongs.
Barnett’s co-frontman, Tom May, serves as hype man on the songs where he doesn’t take lead, racing to the barricade, mouthing the words along with the fans, creating a shared experience. It’s one thing to pull off that give and take in a tiny club — like Kung Fu Necktie, where they launched the After the Party tour — but doing it in a room of several thousand, and still coming across sincere, is something else.
In short, The Menzingers are at the top of their game right now; not only do their songs ring truer than ever in the spring of 2017, but there are a lot of them in the back catalog at this point: beyond hearing most of After the Party, the show had high points in “The Obituaries,” “Thick As Thieves,” “Good Things,” “Mexican Guitars” and more Most movingly, during “Gates,” the disco ball was illuminated, casting a resplendent glow across the room as Barnett reminded us that “Happiness is just a moment.” The world may be falling apart and we don’t know where we’re headed in it, it seemed to say, but at least we have one other.
There was a lot to like about this show, absolutely. But something that could have been better, taking the long view of the night, was the fact that — between opening sets from West Virginia’s Rozwell Kid and Brooklyn’s Jeff Rosenstock — the night was heavy in homogeny before the Menzos hit the stage.
Taken individually, both of those acts are enjoyable; Rozwell does a riff heavy / lick heavy take on power pop, something between Cheap Trick and the Get Up Kids, and their rock and roll swagger, windmill strums and high kicks are a lot of fun to watch, if a bit one-note. Rosenstock has a more dynamic sonic palette, employing keyboards and saxophone alongside layers of guitar for songs that build from ballads to bruisers. He’s a comical and endearing stage presence too, bouncing between his bandmates, riffing and grinning, jumping into the crowd to play sax while being held aloft by fans. It’s like the Mr. Fun Guy shtick of Mac DeMarco, but with significantly better songs to back it up.
But. Between Rozwell, and Rosenstock, and The Menzos, this was a show with SO. MANY. DUDES. I may be wrong, but the only woman onstage the entire night was when Cayetana’s Augusta Koch came out for a minute during The Menzingers’ encore to sing along to the final refrain of “In Remission.”
This point was further hammered home to me this morning when I opened up Facebook and read an interview with Slingshot Dakota’s Carly Commando on the Track 7 website about how the scene — the general DIY punk community is what she’s referencing, of course, but it’s applicable across the board — could do a lot better when it comes to inclusivity. That’s an area where last night’s lineup definitely fell short, and it only took one look at the very mixed group of dudes and ladies alike lining the front row of the audience (one wearing a Slingshot t-shirt) to know that the argument that “well the crowd is mostly guys, so…” doesn’t work here.
The Fillmore, The Menzingers