I’m not used to America yet. Every time I pack my bags and board the 15-hour flight from Hong Kong, it freaks me out a little bit. Walking into a coffee shop and seeing six different types of milk (none of them being whole milk) does fill me with a sense of unease. So you would think that I would feel right at home on a Sunday night standing in the Belasco while over 100 people scream “America, you’re freaking me out” at the top of their lungs. Meet The Menzingers – a 4-person punk rock band, and the second-most famous accomplishment of Scranton, PA.
Establishing my place right at the front of the crowd, I was sandwiched between two 12-year old boys whose first concert it was and a 65-year old couple sporting neon-green streaks in their jet-black hair. Before I could meet my new friends, the first openers trotted on (and I mean trotted-on): Rodeo Boys, hailing from Lansing, Michigan.
Starting the night off strong with “Feel the Same” from their latest album, the lead singer Tiff Hannay belts out their trademark crunchy alt-rock, drenched in feedback. Blending seamlessly into “Garbage Man”, guitarist Cody Lee shines through guttural hooks and roaring solos, jumping around the stage and infecting the crowd with his energy – even breaking some guitar strings along the way. Throughout the set, the band’s roots start to show – introducing a certain country twang; unexpected, yet exciting in this punk, grunge and indie rock scene.
Next, we are introduced to Cloud Nothings, led by singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi. Walking onto the stage with their glasses, shoulder-length hair and nerd-adjacent comic tees, they couldn’t have been more different than Rodeo Boys. Yet, from the first hit of drummer Jayson Gerycz’s stick, we quickly realise…punk rock comes in all forms. This band transformed the stage into a battlefield – drums warring with guitar, fighting against the screams of the vocalist (and I mean screams). Cloud Nothing’s songs are not the type to sing along to in the car. Deceptively dense, I had to choose one instrument to listen to in order to decipher each song. It was a rollercoaster of sound – pushing and pulling you until you’re completely overwhelmed, blindly following the band. Their final song lasted over 8 minutes, ad-libs alternating between Gerzcyz’s Whiplash moments and guitarist Chris Brown’s pulverising riffs. Following Rodeo Boys, Gerzcyz also managed to split his drumstick before leaving the stage…broken instruments count: 2.
Our last opener was Microwave, and they were nothing like the household appliance. While their instruments were spared from utter destruction, neon duct-tape was added to guitars, and lead singer/guitarist Nathan Hardy managed to switch guitars a total of four times during his 30-minute set. Although defined as rock, I would argue that Microwave brought a certain blues element to their songs – bringing heart and soul to a black eyeshadowed, leather-wearing, pierced and tattooed demographic.
Although Hardy might have foregone his former life as a Mormon missionary, he is bringing his new religion to those who perhaps need it the most. While melodic, their newer songs are darker than their oldies – moving from “Much Love” to “Death is a Warm Blanket”. The most well-known of the openers, Microwave triggered mosh-pits and crowdsurfing, riling up the crowd and creating the perfect entrance for the much-awaited Menzingers.
After already being on their feet for two hours, it takes a real performer to bring together a crowd of middle-schoolers and quinquagenarians, and Tom May went above and beyond. Bouncing onto the stage in his Elton John like glasses, he brought a smile to everyone’s face, finding and creating pure joy from his performance. Kicking it off with their new release “Hope is a Dangerous Little Thing”, the band had the crowd screaming along to every song. Keeping energy high, the cycle of moshing and crowd surfing started once again, reaching a new level once the band brought out their older hits from “Hello Exile”. Their performance of “Anna” in particular, brought the whole crowd together – creating that feeling only rock concerts can: of the cathartic and chaos existing in equilibrium.
Giving the people a break from all the moshing (and there was indeed a lot), Greg Barnett crooned out softer songs such as “Come On Heartache”, as the night started becoming an exercise in nostalgia for people who grew up with the band. Songs such as “Telling Lies” meant just a little bit more as lyrics such as “Where are we going to go… now that our twenties are over?” were whispered by the room.
Coming back for their encore, The Menzingers blasted out “Irish Goodbyes” and “Casey”, giving the crowd exactly what they were looking for – a sense of ease and fulfilment, as they returned to their “freakish” America.