REVIEW/PHOTOS: NEPA Holiday Show with Menzingers, Tigers Jaw, and more in Scranton, 12/16/17
A little snow couldn’t keep away hundreds of fans of all ages, some who drove from hours away and others eager to see their hometown friends again, from piling into the Grand Ballroom of the Scranton Cultural Center on Saturday, Dec. 16 for the seventh annual NEPA Holiday Show.
Started by The Menzingers and Tigers Jaw in 2011, the festive concert that raises money for Arts Alive (local youth art and music programs) also featured another Holiday Show mainstay, Captain, We’re Sinking, as well as two newcomers to the bill – James Barrett and The Hill You Die On – all coming from Scranton. With The Menzingers, Tigers Jaw, and Captain, We’re Sinking all releasing new albums through big labels this year to add to their catalogs of fan favorites, it was obvious that this was going to be one of the biggest Holiday Shows yet.
While Three Man Cannon was forced to drop out due to sickness, singer/songwriter James Barrett was eager to take their place, explaining as his solo set began that playing this show was a dream come true to him after attending this to see his favorite bands year after year. With several EPs under his belt, including this year’s “Twenty,” his personal, poetic songwriting style fit perfectly with the headlining acts and was a welcome addition to the lineup.
Next up was The Hill You Die On, a doom metal band who tore down expectations with a brutally heavy set that surprised many of the younger attendees who seemed to not know how to take the group at first. As their hard, sludgy music echoed throughout the room and heads started to bang, however, they eventually won the crowd over by offering something different and staying true to the heavy metal sound on display in their debut “Morningstar” EP.
Captain, We’re Sinking opened with “Trying Year,” the first track from their new album, “The King of No Man,” and a fitting song for the end of 2017, a rough year for many. The relatability continued with “Books,” the second track from “No Man,” and with songs like “A Bitter Divorce” from 2013’s “The Future Is Cancelled,” fans linked arms and swayed along with the music as they screamed the refrain, “I am dead again!” By the time they closed with “Brother,” the cold winter night was thoroughly warmed up.
Starting with “Follows,” Tigers Jaw played mostly songs from their latest record, “Spin,” along with past favorites and some surprising deviations, captivating the crowd with one of their best Holiday Show sets yet. While they don’t usually perform covers, singers Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins, joined by three touring members, broke into Third Eye Blind’s pop rock hit “Semi-Charmed Life” and later “I Won’t Back Down” as a tribute to Tom Petty, who died unexpectedly at age 66 in October. They ended with a jam-filled version of “Window” from the new album, pouring every last bit of energy they had into those chaotic closing moments.
Things absolutely exploded when The Menzingers seized the stage, starting with “Tellin’ Lies,” the opening track from the new album “After the Party” that laments their 20s being over, though they played like they were just beginning. “Scranton, we’re The Menzingers! It’s great to be home for the holidays. Thank you all so much for coming out today,” vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett said before jumping right into “Good Things” from 2012’s “On the Impossible Past.”
The band kept things interesting by sprinkling many of their biggest fan favorite songs throughout the set rather than saving them until the end, constantly keeping the energy level high and only stopping here and there to recall hometown memories, like the release of their debut record “A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology” 10 years ago at the now defunct Cafe Metropolis in Wilkes-Barre with Title Fight, having the “best time” with Tigers Jaw on a tour of the United Kingdom, seeing “The Lord of the Rings” at the movie theater next to the Kmart on Route 6 in Dickson City (both the theater and store are gone now), and a mention of the Turkey Hill in West Scranton that gets a shout-out in newer hit “Bad Catholics.”
Blowing through songs quickly, an encore was inevitable, which included “After the Party’s” title track and “In Remission” from 2014’s “Rented World,” ending perfectly with another massive sing-along that would leave everyone young and old with something to remember another 10 years from now. Hopefully, the NEPA Holiday Show will still be an annual tradition then, inspiring future generations of young musicians while funding their dreams of reaching this level of success through Arts Alive.
Listen to Menzingers vocalist/guitarist Tom May talk about the Holiday Show in Episode 43 of the original NEPA Scene Podcast and hear Captain, We’re Sinking vocalist/guitarist Bobby Barnett discuss it in Episode 42.
Photos by Keith Perks/1120 Studios
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.