LIVE REVIEW: The Menzingers + Spanish Love Songs + Mannequin Pussy, Riverside, Newcastle, Wednesday 12 February 2020

Tom May of The Menzingers at the Riverside, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

It’s been 10 long years since Philadelphia-based punk band The Menzingers last played in Newcastle – and I’ll bet not many of those who packed the Riverside tonight saw them.

That one and only previous appearance in the city was at The Northumberland Arms pub on a tour promoting their second album Chamberlain Waits. It’s fair to say the band, formed in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 2006, have come a long way since then.

Tours with the likes of Anti-Flag and Against Me! led to them being picked up by influential punk label Epitaph, which released their 2012 album On The Impossible Past, which, for many fans, including myself, was their gateway to the band.

I’ve heard thousands of records in my time, but few made such an immediate impact, and I was irredeemably hooked on the four-piece who play melodic punk with huge hooks and heartfelt choruses.

Greg Barnett and Tom May of The Menzingers at the Riverside, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

I’d only ever seen them at Rebellion Festival before, so couldn’t wait to see them in their own show, literally preaching to the converted.

This gig was part of a tour to promote their sixth album, Hello Exile. It came out last year, and was one of my favorite records of 2019 (read the review here).

The wide age range of the audience was a clue to the all-encompassing appeal of The Menzingers. From ‘kids’ in their 20s to older heads in their late 50s, everyone was here to pay homage to a band who write everyday life with a passion, intensity and empathy that few others can match.

Greg Barnett of The Menzingers at the Riverside, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

Whether they’re singing about falling in or out of love, reminiscing about the past or reflecting on the present, they have the knack of making music that people really connect to. It’s a mystery how they’re not much, much bigger.

They opened with Anna, the lead single from the latest album, and the fans have obviously taken it to their hearts, as they sang it back word for word, as they would with most of the 80-minute set.

They followed with The Obituaries, from the aforementioned On The Impossible Past, which is, for me, one of their very best songs. Cue the first of many crowd surfers over the barrier, just missing my head as I snapped away in the photo pit. It was to get livelier as the night went on. Much livelier.

Tom May and Eric Keen of The Menzingers at the Riverside, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

The Menzingers are effectively a band with two frontmen, as guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May share vocal duties. It’s May who takes centre stage, and it’s obvious why. He’s like Tigger on speed, bouncing all over the stage, emitting enough energy to power a small town.

Barnett has a gruffer voice, which compliments May’s higher-pitched tones well, and the line-up is completed by Eric Keen on bass and Joe Godino on drums. This tight-as-a-gnat’s-chuff rhythm section is just as important to The Menzingers’ infectious sound as the urgent riffs and soaring, screaming vocals.

Joe Godino on drums and Erik Keen on bass give The Menzingers an understated but formidable rhythm section. Pic: Gary Welford.

Exactly a third of the 21-song set was taken from the latest album, with America (You’re Freaking Me Out) and High School friend among my highlights, though everyone will have their own.

New songs fitted seamlessly alongside old favourites: there were half a dozen from previous album After The Party, which is another superb slice of heart-on-the-sleeve punk rock.

Lookers, Tellin’ Lies and Thick As Thieves went down a storm, and the four tracks which were played from On The Impossible Past got a rousing reception, though that would have been the case with anything from that album.

Tom May was all over the stage as The Menzingers played their first Newcastle show in 10 years at the Riverside. Pic: Gary Welford.

A cover of The Clash’s Death or Glory was an odd but welcome inclusion near the end of the main set, but the biggest singalong of the night – and certainly the biggest wave of crowdsurfers – accompanied I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, the highlight of the 2014 album Rented World.

After a two-song encore The Menzingers were gone – but not before promising not to leave it 10 years before returning to a city they said they’d fallen in love with.

A mention should be made too of the two fine support acts who opened proceedings tonight, both of them new to me. First up were Mannequin Pussy, another four-piece from Philly who released their third album last year on Epitaph Records.

Mannequin Pussy opened the show for The Menzingers at the Riverside, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

Singer Marisa seemed to be having problems with her vocal mic at first, but after overcoming them – and calling out a group of ignorant people who were having “the loudest fucking conversation in the world” just feet from the stage – they won over the crowd with a set which ended in a run of frenetic hardcore songs.

The main support were Spanish Love Songs, an LA-based quintet who released their third album, Brave Faces Everyone, on Pure Noise Records just last week.

Spanish Love Songs were the main support for The Menzingers at the Riverside, Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

To say they’re a perfect fit for The Menzingers is an understatement, as they trade in the same sort of hooks, melodies and emotional lyrics.

I was extremely impressed by their nine-song set, and need to hear more, but sadly they had sold out of CD copies of the album, so I’ll add them to the ‘must buy’ list.

Gary Welford owner