For a band with a distinct habit of opening albums with lines like “I’ve been having a horrible time pulling myself together”, “everything is terrible” and tracks with names like ‘I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore’, its curious how Menzingers live shows are almost invariably jubilant, celebratory affairs.
Even when the lyrics are straight-up, textbook nihilism – “I will fuck this up/I fucking know it”, the wryly infectious refrain from ‘The Obituaries’, being a prominent example – it only seems to make their fans more eager to throw their arms around each other and scream along at the top of their lungs, as if they somehow feel they’ve been granted all-too-rare permission to celebrate the beautifully flawed nature of the human experience.
This distinct mix of brutally honest introspection and wistful nostalgia reached new heights on this year’s ‘After the Party’, the Philadelphia punk quartet’s latest and most accomplished record, and one which has also managed to put the colourful spring back in the band’s step after 2014’s especially bleak ‘Rented World’ – and judging by the strength of their latest tour, their setlists are all the better for it.
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Having deservedly edged their way into the big leagues in the last few years via a non-stop touring regimen and heaps of critical endorsement, The Menzingers’ latest stop in Manchester was a more polished affair than their Gorilla show in 2014. Scrappy, Westerberg-esque new cut ‘Tellin’ Lies’ opened the proceedings in raucous fashion; it’s a testament to co-lead singers Greg Barnett and Tom May’s growth as songwriters that the track is able to curveball seamlessly from a snotty, cynical rocker to the soul-crushing earnestness of its “is it wrong to say that things can change?” refrain without sounding trite or jarring.
The previously mentioned fan-favourite ‘I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore’ followed directly after, with its siren-wail guitars and deadpanned titular phrase receiving one of the night’s most vocal cheers from the packed-out Academy 2 crowd – which, despite the venue’s dreadfully sterile school-hall-vibe, was on fine form throughout. The fast-paced performance drew heavily from the harder material from the triumphant new record and their de facto masterpiece ‘On the Impossible Past’, with their discography’s black sheep ‘Rented World’ downplayed and early songs almost entirely omitted, save for a surprise, heartfelt rendition of ‘Time Tables’.
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Longstanding fans may take issue with this creative decision; and to be fair, the reality of a Menzingers show without former staple ‘I Was Born’ or the downbeat latter-day classic ‘Where Your Heartache Exists’ may seem like a cruel and unusual one at first. But let’s not be greedy – with new material as strong as the arena rock-tinged ‘House on Fire’, the Springsteen-calibre tale of youth unemployment ‘Midwestern States’ and show-stopping lead single ‘Lookers’, something had to give.
After closing the main set with their summery pop punk number ‘Bad Catholics’, the band returned for a formidable, Barnett-heavy encore – its noticeable how he’s shifting more and more towards being the primary frontman as of late – consisting of the anthemic ‘Lookers’, the gut-wrenching, lovelorn highlight ‘Casey’ and the riff-heavy behemoth of a closer ‘In Remission’, the latter of which ramped up its thunderous finale to almost cartoonish levels of angst, thereby ending an impassioned, rip-roaring show almost exactly as it began.
After seeing the band perform – even as their choice of venue regrettably yet inevitably grows more cavernous and less intimate – it becomes immediately clear why aural and emotional assault of The Menzingers is gaining them such a devoted fan base: when you’re wailing along in unison to “all good things should fall apart” on a school night after one-too-many beers, fucking up never felt so good.