I imagine that watching The Menzingers as a punk fan is the closest I’ll ever get to watching Robbie Williams as a pop fan: in every song the crowd were belting the lyrics out, word-perfect and at full volume, at times even louder the band. If frontman Greg Barnett had dropped the mic and walked out, the audience could have carried the show.
This speaks volumes to how well The Menzingers have not only mastered writing catchy hooks, but how they have tapped into a seam of identifiable, bittersweet sentiments that resonate perfectly with a contemporary audience. Their song-writing truly encapsulates the flawed existence that many of us experience, illustrated best in The Obituaries where the crowd scream, “I will fuck this up, I fucking know it,” repeatedly at the top of their lungs.
Sinking an early pint in the pub opposite Koko, I’m told that openers The Dirty Nil are a group of angry Canadians from the same gold-seam as PUP and The Flatliners, so I approach their set with high expectations. The trio storm on stage, tearing into a frenzied garage rock performance. Vocalist, Luke Bentham is a slick, confident frontman, sporting double-denim, snapping pink bubble-gum and wailing on a Dan Armstrong see-through guitar. It took a moment to shake off my British indie-punk sensibilities; I might have felt more comfortable had they shuffled out un-showered, slightly overweight and visibly nervous.
The Ontarian trio look small on stage, but they have no trouble filling the room with classic rock swagger. Rooted in driven, rhythmic backline force, their strongest moments are in angry shout-a-long choruses and dual-vocal harmonies. The trio provide a great rock ‘n’ roll show, but I can’t help but be distracted by bassist, Dave Nardi, who incidentally bears a striking (and unfortunate) resemblance to a young, Nirvana-obsessed Ed Milliband, leaping frenetically around the stage.
The Flatliners follow with their typical great performance, arguably a headliner in their own right. Chris Cresswell’s trademark clean-meets-gruff vocals over Fat Wreck-style melodic punk rock gets me in the gut every time.
Having first opened as a theatre in 1900, Koko is a spectacular venue with multiple tiers, balconies, and boxes. The blood-red walls, sumptuous furnishings and planet-sized disco ball lend a marvellous sense of occasion to every show there. However, it does have one major drawback: the floors are flat, making it tricky to see regardless of which tier you’re on. I evidently missed the ‘You Must Be 6ft or Taller To Ride’ sign on the way in, but the combination definitely made getting the most from The Flatliners’ set a challenge. Fortunately, the giant in front of me did smell delightfully of laundry detergent.
Old Flatliners favourites like Monumental and Carry the Banner storm through the crowd, however other tracks fall a little flatter: a testament to just how strong 2010’s Cavalcade is as an album. New material from The Flatliners’ sixth studio album Inviting Light lyrically channels The Menzingers’ themes of leaving your 20s behind, chock-full of clean guitar hooks and gruff, impassioned fist-in-the-air yeeeeaaaaahs. Not for the first time, I’m left overwhelmingly jealous of the Canadian punk scene.
The Menzingers launch into their set with Tellin’ Lies, the singalong opening track on their latest album After The Party. Despite the album’s recent release, the crowd immediately kick into fifth gear. We had to fight for elbow-room and within 30 seconds I’ve been drenched in beer; it feels like it’s raining from the balcony for the full length of the song.
By the time my ponytail’s gone crusty, the band have floored us with anthemic belters like In Remission opener, I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore and Nice Things from On The Impossible Past. As an old-school Alpha Kappa-era fan I’m impressed by the staggering collection of knockout tracks that they perform, demonstrating the strength of their back catalogue by incorporating a good balance of songs across the last four albums into their set-list. After The Party has only been out since February but punchy new songs like Lookers and Midwestern States, peppered with their signature nostalgic lyricisms, slot seamlessly into their impressive repertoire.
The Camden crowd should be proud of their unprecedented ability to clap in time, a regular feature throughout the night. Despite the packed-out venue, the evening feels intimate because the audience is so deeply involved; I’m singing along with the same reckless abandon that I’d have crooning into a hairbrush in my bedroom mirror. Thick as Thieves is a homage to transatlantic friendships, and their personal shout out to Leagues Apart and Apologies, I Have None is a sweet touch, reminding me that I’m watching a band who have come up from humble punk roots, rather than the polished, stadium-ready act I was witnessing.
Earlier in the evening, my friends had commented that we hadn’t seen many memorable shows at Koko, but tonight changed all that. It’s incredibly rare that I would describe a performance as flawless, but watching The Menzingers headline to a crowd so charged with passion and dedication was a stunning experience, and one I cannot wait to repeat.
P.S. On the North American leg of the tour The Dirty Nil and The Flatliners were joined by Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, who I was gutted not to see on the UK line-up. Sounding a lot like The Clash if The Clash were a bunch of angry Canadians, I’d strongly recommend checking them out: