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The Menzingers are therapists and we could all do with a visit

At the time of writing, this was the first live review I'd written in a good few years. It was supposed to be published on (in?) an online music mag, but somebody forgot to send a photographer along, and the editor left the mag between the commissioning and filing of this piece, so it was cast into nowheresville.

I shopped it around a bit, but nobody wanted to publish it without a photograph. Then it was too late (these live reviews need to be published soon after the gig in question, you see). And now it lives here, in purgatory.

The Menzingers, The Reverence Hotel, Footscray, Friday 9th February 2017

Find me a lyric that better taps in to late twenties or early thirties anxiety than: “I will fuck this up, I fucking know it”, and I’ll give you a massage and make you a Pina Colada.

It was a line conceived on the track ‘The Obituaries’, from The Menzingers’ 2012 opus On The Impossible Past. But it’s a line that comes to life when it’s being hollered back at the Philadelphians by a sweaty, fist waving, beer-bathed horde in a dimly-lit room. And here at Footscray’s Reverence Hotel, on this balmy Friday night, it’s really coming to life. You can practically hear the lungs exploding.

As the ceiling sweats and the high tide of the titanic singalong recedes, the opening chords of ‘Thick as Thieves’, taken from After The Party – the melodic punks’ fifth, brand new record – ring out. It’s a record that, thematically, takes growing up and getting boring to task. Well-trodden territory for punk troupes for decades – no shit – but here, in 2017, there are few bands who tackle The Mighty Millennial-Specific Angst as successfully as The Menzingers. At least, few who make it so much fun to sing along to. 

Further evidence of The Menzingers status as modern day spokesmen for the pugnacious post-adolescent comes when ‘Tellin’ Lies’ – After The Party’s opening track and mission statement – kicks off. Immediately, it pulls this big mess of sizzling strangers together. “Oh, where we gonna go now that our twenties are over?”, goes the chorus. On one hand an extremely simple lyric. On the other, the question we’re all asking.

The track flings the room into another frenzy. More lungs explode, some vocal chords tear. Through it all, the venue holds a wall-to-wall grin. The trauma of the working week exits stage left. Then comes ‘Gates’ (one of the band’s best-known anthems), a masterclass in sentimental punk-rock songwriting, and the deal is sealed. If anyone came to this show alone tonight, they certainly don’t feel it now.

By this point of their career, five records deep, The Menzingers have their craft and their confidence dialed. They no longer need to prove themselves. But far from making them lazy, their experience has an invigorating effect. Co-frontmen Greg Barnett and Tom May play precisely and passionately for the duration of the 20-song set. The rhythm section, with Eric Keen on bass and Joe Godino on drums (god bless Joe Godino – it was so hot in there), provide a backbone strong enough to build a two-storey house on.

Songs old and new are met with equal elation from the sold-out (for the second night in a row) crowd. There’s nothing from their 2007 debut A Lesson In The Abuse of Information Technology but a welcome appearance from Chamberlain Waits’ ‘Times Tables’ reminds me, and others, that these guys have been good for a very long time.

A rendition of ‘Who’s Your Partner’, would’ve sat exceptionally well with me, but you can’t always get what you want, a lesson learned by the bloke who asked for ‘Charlie’s Army’ (from After The Party) close to five times. He didn’t get it. The Menzingers: they’ll play you 20 songs for fifty bucks, but don’t fuck with their setlist.  At least, not tonight.

In twenty years’ time, people will look back and ask: “Where were you when The Menzingers got into the hook on ‘Mexican Guitars’ at The Rev?” The walls looked nervous – if the PA was up a little higher, this mob could’ve bowled them clean over. ‘In Remission’ wrapped up the encore, the lyric: “life’s a terminal illness in remission” serving up a tidy conclusion to a night of terminal catharsis. 

The Menzingers aren’t a political punk band, but in times as peculiar as these, playing music that fosters this kind of camaraderie is about the most political thing you can do.