Among the many hidden treasures that New Jersey offers, perhaps the most important for fans of any music is Vintage Vinyl. In addition to its impressive, massive collection of albums new and old, the record store off of Route 1 in Fords boasts a stage, sound system, and a staff that consistently brings the best acts in rock music to play there.
In last week’s case, Philadelphia punks The Menzingers, who found themselves in a lull before they embark on their first headlining tour in support of their new album, After the Party, came through on their first stop of a trio of acoustic dates to promote the release of the new album. So it came to pass that on a brisk Wednesday night in Feburary, the crowd of over 300 packed into the aisles of the infamous record shop, and watched one of the world’s best bands continue to assert its greatness.
For those who have not been initiated, a typical Vintage Vinyl acoustic show goes a little like this: you stop into the store to preorder the band’s new record (there is a window where you can preorder online for those too far out of town), save your receipt and wristband to get you into the event, and then in some order: pick up the record, attend the show, get the new record (if available) or something else signed during a band meet-and-greet after the band gets done playing. I’ve been to almost a dozen of these events by now, and each band handles them differently. However, it gives me great pleasure to say that the event The Menzingers put on was certainly one of the best.
As the band made their way to the stage, the audience was greeted with the stripped-down setup the band would be playing with tonight: dual frontmen Tom May and Greg Barnett weilding acoustic guitars, bassist Eric Keek maintaining his normal setup, and drummer Eric Godino playing light drums on a minimalistic kit. The band quickly broke into “Bad Catholics,” the second single released in promotion of After the Party. Barnett’s delivery was much more subdued in this setting than the band’s “normal” performances, perhaps because he was still warming up. The crowd assembled served as an excellent back-up, however, a trend that would continue throughout the night. The band quickly transitioned to “Midwestern States,” an unreleased standout from the album that kept up with the hindsight-driven storytelling that “Bad Catholics” introduced.
The first track that May provided lead vocals for was also the band’s first foray into their back catalog. The On The Impossible Past standout “Burn After Writing” translated exceptionally well in the acoustic setting, with May following Barnett’s lead by beginning with subdued vocals before losing his restraint and belting out the final chorus. “Burn After Writing” seemed to be a launching-off point for the set, as each song cranked up the vocal intensity until the band ended with After the Party lead single “Lookers.”
The acoustic setting of the evening provided the band to spread its wings a little bit more than their sweaty club shows allow for, as the band was able to pull out some interesting picks from the new album on this night. First up was Barnett’s self-proclaimed “most simple song on the album,” the aching “Black Mass.” May also gave fans a taste of the equally subdued “The Bars,” a dreary examination of a night gone wrong. These two tracks are not likely to be in the band’s sets often, so they may end up being something special for those in attendance to hold onto as the band continues to grow. In addition, the acoustic renditions of songs like “Gates” and “Good Things” put a new perspective on each track, and the unexpected inclusion of the raucous Rented World opener “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore” provided even more intrigue to an already captivated audience.
In summation, the evening put on by Vintage Vinyl and The Menzingers was wonderful. The Menzingers played a ten-song set (you can view the setlist below), which is much longer than many of the sets I’ve seen on the Vintage Binyl stage. The staff at Vintage Vinyl kept things moving quickly after the band’s set ended so that each attendee had the opportunity to gush to the band, and the band was graceful and warm to all comers. If they schedule a band you love (and it’s only a matter of time before they do), make sure you get down to Vintage and support their wonderful cause. And please, for your own health, check out The Menzingers’ amazing new album After the Party.
It would be foolish of me to talk about this show, the first of many in support of After the Party, without talking about how much of a triumph the album is. While much of the Menzingers’ music has been focused on the here and now, After the Party is an unapologetic, unfiltered look into the past. No topic is too touchy for Barnett and May in their songwriting, as the album is a perfect balance between melancholy (“Lookers” and the album’s incredible title track), pride (“House on Fire,” “Charlie’s Army”), realism (“Tellin’ Lies”) and unyielding optimism (“Midwestern States,” “Your Wild Years”). There is something to take out of each track, even the ones you don’t designate as your favorites. It can be difficult to look into the past, where so much regret may be buried, but The Menzingers face it head on in the stories of After the Party. They acknowledge what’s happened, prepare for the task at hand in the present, but maintain an optimistic eye on the future. This can be a tough task for lots of us these days, with the uncertainty of US and global politics holding a black cloud over our lives for the past few weeks. It makes the opening lyric of After the Party seem very fitting: “Oh yeah, oh yeah, everything is terrible.” But what The Menzingers represent with their new album is that music is still one of our purest forms of escapism, and that’s where Tom May’s line in “House on Fire” gives us a reminder that we’re here to stay: “We set the house on fire, but we ain’t going nowhere.” However, there is one lyric that I think perfectly encompasses the overall feeling of After the Party, and the impact its had on me so far. From “Midwestern States,” Greg Barnett reminds a friend and/or lover there’s still a lot left to look forward to:
“But we’re still breathing, and the party ain’t over.”
Here’s hoping this is a party that never ends.
1. Bad Catholics
2. Midwestern States
3. Burn After Writing
4. The Bars
5. Good Things
6. House on Fire
7. I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore
8. Black Mass
Check out a video of the full set below!