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REVIEW/PHOTOS: Scranton’s Menzingers deliver Clash-style punk show at Musikfest Café in Bethlehem

REVIEW/PHOTOS: Scranton’s Menzingers deliver Clash-style punk show at Musikfest Café in Bethlehem
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In recent times, punk bands have gravitated toward two styles – speedy thrash and Ramones-style poppy punk.

But the style that really pushed punk forward to the masses, and which is all but missing today, was that of The Clash. It also was fast and hard, but had a deeper musical sensibility and lyrical content.

But what might have happened it The Clash had been around long enough to grow up and mature, both as people and as a band?

That is what came to mind when Scranton-native, Philadelphia-based punks The Menzingers played Saturday at Musikfest Café at the SteelStacks in Bethlehem.

In a 75-minute set that packed in 20 songs with virtually no down time, The Menzingers packed the best of The Clash’s melody-driven punk with an added life perspective to deliver a great show with a rock vibe rare for this venue.

Any doubt about the reception the band’s music was obliterated by the fervid response from the audience of about 800 – which not only sang loudly along to virtually every word, but brought the first crowd surfing and stage diving in memory to Musikfest Café.

That reaction started with the opening song – the title track from the band’s newest disc, “After the Party,” released last year. It was raucous rock – bordering on punk but not quite – and already had the set’s first crowd surfer.

“Good Things” was much the same, and the better “House on Fire” was The Clash’s post-punk phase – more chime-y and closer to new wave, but still forceful as singer Tom May wailed at the end.

Also very punk rock was the way the crowd gleefully sang along to – and thrust pointed fingers during – the expletive chorus to “The Obituaries.”

It perhaps was telling that not only was a good chunk of the set from “After the Party” – nine songs – but that several of them both sounded most like The Clash and were among the night’s best.

Both were true of the very chant-y “Thick as Thieves” and the song with which it melded, the drum-heavy “Midwestern States.” The latter also had Clash-like societal references to such things as unemployment, rebellion toward authority, and the mistakes of youth.

But songs from the group’s other four albums sometimes carried the same trademarks. The good “Toy Soldiers,” with both its social and militaristic references, was very Clash. The also-good “Nice Things” barreled forward, and “In Remission,” with its lyrics of conflict, was very punk rock.

May’s vocals on “Sculptors and Vandals” sounded similar to the smooth delivery of The Clash’s Mick Jones, and “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore” again had the crowd frenzied.

In fact, the concert had so much momentum that it was 13 songs and 45 minutes in before May asked the crowd the perfunctory “Everybody doing OK” – although judging by the frenzy nearest the stage, it might have been an honest question about their well-being.

He said The Menzingers were going to “slow it down” for “Where Your Heartache Exists,” and it was slower, but hardly slow.

And the band picked right back up with the crowd favorite “Bad Catholics,” which again engaged – or perhaps unhinged – the masses.

There were very few weak spots in the entire set. Perhaps the songs “Boy Blue” and “Burn After Writing” were less distinguished, but hardly bad.

And the band finished strongly. “Gates,” with its more melodic, marshal vibe, had the crowd again singling loudly and clapping above their heads.

The encore (the crowd even evoked the punk spirit by raising up the “ole, ole, ole, ole” chant) was evocative, started with two songs from the new disc.

The more studied but still rocking “Tellin’ Lies” actually talks about (gulp) growing up. That was followed by “Your Wild Years,” a positively nostalgic song packed with Philadelphia references. And the night closed with the equally reflective “Casey.”

They all sounded like what might had come from The Clash had it been able to grow up and look back on what it had created.

But the song that most captured that was the new disc’s “Lookers,” which closed the main set.

The vocals sounded like The Clash’s Joe Strummer, the music was the best of melodic punk, and the lyrics were great: “In a teenage memory/That I hold till eternity/’Cause the future ain’t coming for it.”

That might have been what a grown-up Clash might have said.

The three and a half hour show’s three supporting acts also had welcome elements of seldom-seen punk.

Opening band Ramona, a Philadelphia-based trio, was far closer to The Ramones style of punk – speedy songs, prominent drums, and good-sounding, melodic songs in a nine-tune, 20-minute set.

The band’s best was when it offered bassist/singer Abby V. on vocals. She had an uninhibited style – a sometimes-snarling, often Joan Jett-sounding female element that was fresh and interesting.

Long Island, New York-based Iron Chic was both even more melodic and more raucous, sometimes sounding like Flogging Molly, while starting that mosh pit and crowd surfing in a seven-song, 30-minute set.

Direct support Rozwell Kid was an ill fit for the bill. In a nine-song, 30-minute set, it sounded most like Weezer, with perhaps new wave and Thin Lizzy guitar thrown in. While it wasn’t bad, necessarily, it was the rock star posing that was pretty much the antithesis of real punk.

Guest article by John J. Moser/The Morning Call; photos by Jason Riedmiller Photography/NEPA Scene