Hartford, CT is not known for its punk scene. The city, which bears a rough-around-the-edges feel, is home to a strong and thriving rap and hip hop scene, supplemented occasionally by country artists on their way to the bigger cities nearby. So, the people who show up to weekday punk shows in downtown Hartford are a rare, special type of dedicated fans.
There was no long line of fangirls lingering outside when we arrived; only a few leather-clad attendees sharing cigarettes occupied the entrance, which is always a good sign. The venue – Webster Theater, a mid-sized concert hall – was far from full. Maybe 200 scruffy punks filled up only half of the available space, but that didn’t stop anyone from having a fantastic time. It’s not always easy to play to a half-empty venue, but the Menzingers absolutely killed it.
The band is a 4-piece punk rock group hailing from Scranton, PA, made up of Greg Barnet and Tom May on guitar and vocals, Eric Keen on bass, and Joe Godino on drums. Together since 2006, the group has five excellent full-length albums out to date. This tour was for their latest album, “After the Party,” which was released last February. Each album is a masterpiece, and their live show is nothing less.
As they opened their set with “Tellin’ Lies”, the first song on their new album, the crowd instantly began to loosen up and belt out song lyrics along with the band. The song is a catchy one; beginning with the line “oh yeah, oh yeah, everything is terrible,” it’s a relatable lament of the trials of adulthood, real life, and growing older. “What are we gonna do now that our 20’s are over?/Everyone’s asking me over and over.”
This song is one of my favorites by them, and seeing it live was awesome. The fast-paced, aggressive but catchy tune was the perfect thing to open the show with, effectively getting everyone pumped up and engaged. A mosh pit developed almost immediately, a small but energetic one that surged and fell periodically throughout each song.
After that first song, the band played a few older tunes from their past two albums. In no particular order, these songs included some of my favorites: “Good Things,” “Mexican Guitars,” and “Casey,’ from the album “On the Impossible Past” and “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore,” “Rodent,” and “Where Your Heartache Exists,” from the album “Rented World,” respectively. Each of these were played perfectly, and I found myself filled with such energy and euphoria that I couldn’t resist joining the pit.
The band played just one song from their earliest album: “I Was Born,” from the 2010 album “Chamberlain Waits.” The long-time Menzingers fans went hard during this song, which isn’t often played during shows. During the rest of the set, the band played all the best songs from their latest album. Among these were “Bad Catholics,” “Charlie’s Army,” and “After the Party,” as well as several other good ones.
Each of these tunes had everyone singing along and throwing each other around in the pit. The band’s style is largely aggressive, with hard, fast instrumentation and a nice balance of angry/sad vocals that range from rather beautiful and melodic to passionate and angsty. It’s my favorite style to listen to because it gets something inside of me stirring, and it’s my favorite thing to see live because shows like that are so conducive to letting whatever that is out. That’s what the pit is for, after all.
The mosh pit itself was small but intense: the energy produced by a small, concentrated number of extra-passionate punks made the pit one of the roughest ones I’ve seen. There were a lot of people in there that were bigger and stronger than me, and it was so much fun to jump in there and push them around. I got a few good bruises and the wind knocked out of me once or twice; a friend who was with me went down a few times. As always, other people in the pit rushed to help him up. As always, it was awesome to see the dichotomy between the raging violence of the pit and the inclusiveness that underlies it.
Besides the pit, the crowd was not as dense as other shows I’ve been to, making crowd surfing an exhilarating but dangerous endeavor in this venue. At any given point there were only a few rows of people between us and the stage, and sometimes that would include the constantly moving mosh pit. Crowd surfing at this show was more terrifying than usual, but well worth the experience.
Overall, the Menzingers played a killer show. They played just about all of my favorite songs, finishing with “In Remission” – absolutely one of their best – for the encore. They told a few jokes and made fun of either intermittently through the set, but they were there for the music. Unfazed by the small audience size, they didn’t waste time with shenanigans; they churned out power tune after power tune for the whole show, stopping only to let the pit take a breather. At no point did it feel forced or ingenuine; on the contrary, the show was everything I could have wanted.
Every chord and every lyric was delivered perfectly, with a breathtaking passion that was instantly infectious. The Menzingers produced a kind of energy that consumed every person at the show, and even the people who didn’t know the words couldn’t help but feel it anyway. For a few hours one Thursday night that was all we could feel. It doesn’t get any better than that.
photos courtesy of Abigail McCarthy and Google.com.
feature image by Tyler Harris.