All access with The Menzingers

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First Posted: 6/10/2014

It’s The Menzingers’ biggest headlining show in Philadelphia, their hometown since 2008, to date, so if they’re nervous at all, they do a fine job of not showing it.
The Weekender arrived at Union Transfer about an hour before the punk band on Saturday, May 31, and ate at a colorful little “New American cuisine” restaurant across the street called Llama Tooth. As we walk over to the venue, guitarist/vocalist Tom May is outside smoking a cigarette, greeting us happily like old friends and opening the gate so we can park inside the venue’s lot, which would soon become a hangout spot as others arrived.
With the help of a few other Scranton transplants, the band is busy unloading their gear onto the stage and tuning up – the rhythm section vibrates beneath us as we chat. They begin rehearsing “Transient Love” to the empty room, guitarist/vocalist Greg Barnett’s anguished cries echoing through the high ceilings of a building that has served many functions over the years, from a farmers’ market to a storage facility for railway baggage to a restaurant. It has been a concert hall since 2011, one that will be packed to the wooden rafters in a matter of hours. For now, however, things are quiet as we reminiscence about Scranton with bassist Eric Keen.
The other bands have begun to pull into the lot, with PUP unloading next. The Weekender scheduled an exclusive interview with the Canadian up-and-comers (which can also be read on, so we get that out of the way before they do much else, the sounds of “Transient Love” serving as background music. When asked how or why The Menzingers chose to bring them on this summer tour across the country, along with Lemuria and Cayetana, vocalist/guitarist Stefan Babcock just shrugs.
“It’s all a mystery,” he admitted. “I think they just heard the record and dug it.
“People think that there’s some magic to the way the music industry works, and I don’t think there is. I think bands just make records, and if they’re smart about promoting themselves and getting the records into the right people’s hands and people hear it… people like The Menzingers, bands that are huge, are paying attention to bands, and every band should really be paying attention to local scenes and stuff like that.”
“It’s also our team,” drummer/vocalist Zack Mykula credited. “SideOne(Dummy Records) is amazing.
“All the bands are awesome, except for us because we’re being paid to be terrible, which isn’t a stretch, by any means” Mykula joked. “All the bands are wicked.”
“I really feel like it’s a pretty stacked bill. It’s kind of amazing,” Babcock continued.
“And everyone’s friends already,” guitarist/vocalist Steve Sladkowski noted.
Sladkowski is right – this is only the third day of the tour and already all the bands are embracing and laughing like they’ve known each other for years. Members of Cayetana, who are fellow Philadelphians, have been moving all day, but they’re happy to spend their last bit of energy here, maybe because they can sleep in their own beds one last time before hitting the road for the next month.
Meanwhile, Menzingers drummer Joe Godino is hanging out with his brother in the green room, which is more gray than anything else, occasionally looking up at the TV to catch highlights on ESPN. Keen tunes and fiddles with his bass in the corner as Godino and Barnett review footage from last night’s show in New York City on a laptop, disappointed to find that the camera shook too much during the taping, a precursor of the craziness to come.
As a steady stream of friends begins to pour in, a big red tub of clearly marked “moocher beer” is in the backstage hallway to greet them. Guests begin cracking open ice cold cans of Cerveza Tecate, presumably Mexico’s answer to Coors Light, as Babcock and Barnett discuss the poor health of Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley and how sad it is to see him in such a state.
Everyone is in high spirits, however, despite the fact that the hallway and lounge areas have become packed shoulder-to-shoulder, evidence of The Menzingers’ affable popularity. Not one acquaintance is ignored during this makeshift reunion, though every band adheres to the posted schedule and the concert begins promptly at 8 p.m., an industrial metallic smell hanging in the air near the stage, mixed with the familiar musk of fog machine mist.
Cayetana is up first, an indie rock trio of punk grrls who may have been up late telling “yo mama” jokes the night before, but they are on their game tonight as scattered fans throughout the crowd sing along to songs from their upcoming LP, “Nervous Like Me,” despite the fact that it won’t be released until August. One particularly loud audience member audibly screams, “Let’s see those drumsticks!” at drummer Kelly Olsen, however, showing that while women can rock just as hard as men, sexism can still rear its ugly head in a largely open-minded scene.
PUP bursts onto the stage at 8:45, their harmonized screams and spastic motions whipping the crowd into a frenzy almost instantly, only slowing down for the country-tinged “Yukon.”
“Your city f—king rules!” Babcock exclaimed as the band blew through most of the tracks from their debut self-titled album, with highlights including “Lionheart” and set closer “Reservoir.” He couldn’t resist crowd surfing himself as fans shouted, “Meet me at the reservoir!” and carried him away.
The bar has been set high, but Buffalo, New York’s Lemuria calms the room again starting at 9:35 with atmospheric indie rock and a dash of shoegaze, Sheena Ozzella’s vocals soaring over crashing symbols and heavy bass. The stage is warm and anticipation is growing for The Menzingers.
At about 10:35, the triumphant “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore” kicked things off with no introduction needed, causing Union Transfer to erupt. Keen, May, and Barnett held the front line as never-ending waves of crowd surfers leapt onto the stage and flipped off again, turning the show into more of a circus than a concert. Both sides of the stage were packed with smiling friends cheering them on, the pride in their faces apparent.
Godino held the beat despite the leg of his snare continually slipping down as he pounded away, and May convulsively jammed as Barnett screamed passionately through most of the songs from “On the Impossible Past” and “Rented World,” their latest album already on the lips of every fan singing along in unison. It was difficult to hear Barnett and May at times as their fans chanted every word, fists pumping and surfers patting them on the back as they circled the stage before jumping back in. Three songs from “Chamberlain Waits,” including set staple “I Was Born,” made it into the 18-song set list as well, and they closed with “Transient Love,” just as they had begun the day.
They could have ended on that somber note and not owed anyone a thing, but within minutes they were back on stage for a three-song encore: “Gates,” “A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology,” and “The Obituaries.”
Sweaty and satisfied, the guys celebrated with smiles and conversation rather than hard partying, the moocher beer long gone and exhaustion setting in. Despite being the headliners that many looked up to that evening, they quietly wheeled away their own equipment and packed up their own trailer, as they were due in Washington, D.C., the following day.
The humble, funny, everyday Scrantonians who became The Menzingers said goodbye to the Weekender the same way they parted with all their friends – not with handshakes, but with hugs. We couldn’t see the day ending any other way.