You wouldn’t have known it was a Tuesday night at the Southgate House Revival. The lightning flashing through the stained-glass windows, the slowly filling, gently buzzing Sanctuary Room, the mugginess of an August on the Ohio River – it was the kind of night a Menzingers show is made for.
The evening started gently enough, with Philadelphia alt-punk-shoegaze-meets Americana band Queen of Jeans absolutely mesmerizing the crowd. Their short set meandered through tracks from their first EP and LP, and included tracks from their upcoming Topshelf Records release, If You’re Not Afraid, I’m Not Afraid, out August 23. I hesitate to use the phrase “soaring vocals,” but frankly, that’s what they were. With lush harmonies, and vibrant, sometimes ethereal guitar lines, I was reminded of several other of my favorite female fronted bands, like Denali and All Dogs. Throw in some late-career Limbeck, or On A Wire-era Get Up Kids, and you kind of get the idea. I cannot wait to see them again, and am genuinely looking forward to hearing the new album.
As the Revival Room began to fill with proto-punks (this is so wild, still), Bros (with a capital B), often with their partners (whom they guarded, jealously), young kids and their parents (awesome), young ladies enjoying a night out (didn’t expect to see white girl dancing at a Menzingers show, but here we are), I was struck by the diversity of those who came out for the show (demographically, not ethnically – it was a very white crowd, which isn’t a dig at any of the bands, or the venue, or the crowd itself, merely an observation).
The Sidekicks tore through their surprisingly long set. I’ve seen them a few times, perhaps in the same space at that same venue, but was never really struck or particularly moved one way or the other. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what, exactly, might have changed between the last time I saw them and this performance, but it was a truly great set. Energetic, kind of goofy, sonically varied enough to keep things interesting. Their Punk Rock Pop aesthetic has really been honed, I guess, and it shows.
Now, the room was full – if the show wasn’t sold it, it was damn close. The temperature had gone up a few degrees. I sweat where I stood, after navigating my way through the crowd to a calm spot near the sound and light boards. After two strong sets from their exceptional opening tour mates, I was genuinely curious to see how The Menzingers would close the night out.
From the start, they showed their fans exactly why they’re able to fill a room at The Southgate House Revival on a Tuesday night.
Their set felt anchored by my personal favorite album, 2012’s On the Impossible Past (and maybe that’s relevant to what I like most about the band – more on that in a minute). The four-piece, all in black, started things off with “Good Things,” the opening track to On the Impossible Past, and never looked back. Vocalist and guitarist Greg Barnett carried a majority of the first half of the set, with vocalist and guitarist Tom May picking up more in the second half. They moved briskly, energetically, and bemusedly through tracks from all of their albums, including their upcoming release, Hello Exile, due out October 4 on Epitaph Records.
Tom, bouncing, spring-like, buoyant, moved constantly, Barnett wore a perpetually amused smile. Bassist Eric Keen kept it things tight. Joe Godino, on drums, pushed the night forward. The Menzingers are, for all intents and purposes, a Punk Rock band, but have evolved into something more potent, more vital. The music itself plays as almost deceptively simple, but doused in a bit of melancholy and nostalgia, it somehow elevates what you’re hearing into something that you simultaneously long for, appreciate in the moment, and remember long after the song is over. Their lyrics are insightful, cutting, incredibly smart, and, goddammit, they’re catchy.
The hour-long set took fans through their almost 15 year back catalog, offered catharsis and comradery, bringing together an interestingly disparate group of people from SW Ohio and Northern Kentucky into one sweaty, shouting, animated mass. Tuesday night at The Southgate House Revival felt like what I imagine a Saturday night in Scranton, Pennsylvania, their hometown, would be. I’m just happy I got to witness it.