Last weekend, one of the strongest punk lineups in recent memory hit Lawrence, Kansas’ Granada Theater. Featuring three bands from the East Coast who each play their own personality-infused variation of punk rock, the show didn’t have a single minute of downtime. West Virginia’s Rozwell Kid, followed by New York’s Jeff Rosenstock and The Menzingers, masterfully celebrated the past two decades of punk to the delight of a packed and rowdy venue. Intended to support The Menzingers’ new album, After the Party, the show proved the party, in fact, is still going on — and that’s thanks to the artists’ contributions of bombastic energy, glistening character, and connective punk spirit.
Playing raggedy punk with pop trimmings in the vein of old school Weezer, Rozwell Kid did a more than adequate job of engaging fans as the opener. Unlike what their name and frequent references to Mexican food suggest, the group isn’t from New Mexico, rather hailing from all the way across the country in the rural state of West Virginia. Their sound and stage presence, on the other hand, suggests suburbia, and their beta male absurdities makes them quite the entertaining bunch. They began their set with several songs off their newest LP Too Shabby, including the shred-happy “Weirdo”, which further confirmed their nerd-punk identity.
The band ended their set with two new songs — one of which they claimed to have never performed live before. Not knowing which was which, I sat in amusement as frontman Jordan Hudkins went on to sing about watching the “Weird Al” Yankovic film UHF (on DVD, to be specific) and eating tacos. They effortlessly welded their lyrical out-there-ness to a rumbling core of fuzzy chords and distorted vocals. Before they finished their 30-minute set, they took the time to remind the audience that Jeff Rosenstock was up next, which everyone should’ve already gathered from the huge banner behind the band that said “Jeff Is Next.” Rozwell Kid emitted a vibe best defined by its peculiar personal touches — and that, more than anything else, prove them to be bona fide punk rockers.
Of the three acts on the bill, I was least familiar with Jeff Rosenstock. He was the only artist on the ticket I hadn’t seen previously, and all I knew about the Long Island native apart from a few listens to We Cool? and Worry. material earlier that day was that he’s far from new to the American punk scene. The 30-something rocker emerged with his backing band to expertly groove through a 45-minute mix of songs from his two albums, mostly from the latter. As he took the stage, the background banner changed to a giant flag covered in “edgy” symbols, including the number “666” inside a circle of weed leaves.
From first glance at the flag, it was obvious that Jeff has a wacky personality that comes across live, and his bantering with bandmates in between songs made for quite the spectacle. Of course, the music itself was an excellent reflection of a punk artist who’s been at it for a while. Jeff’s hair appeared a mess and his vocal range a tad limited, but it didn’t stop him from playing the first few songs off Worry. (most notably “We Begged 2 Explode” and “Festival Song”) at full force. The inclusion of piano, 2000s-era keyboard, and acoustic guitar added a lot of versatility to his sound, even though his co-member struggled to get his guitar working at first. It didn’t phase the rest of the band, with Jeff cracking a joke about Radiohead before the group continued pressing into their eclectic mix of punk, pop-punk, and indie rock.
Perhaps more impressive than their seasoned abilities as a bunch was their effort. Jeff didn’t shy away from screamed notes, opting to give it his all whenever possible and getting the crowd to sing along to the many chanted choruses in his group’s music. Their energy pumped up the audience and kept them engaged for their entire set — even resulting in some fans around me who had never heard of him before talking about downloading his albums when they get home. The band finished their set with an impeccable performance “You, in Weird Cities” in which they sped up the tempo for a raucous first half, then slowed into an instrumental jam session before bouncing back into the chorus for a final time. Even with a few hiccups in execution that night, Jeff Rosenstock made up for it with his vigor and charisma.
The Menzingers joined the party at long last, putting on a headlining performance in the truest sense of the word. The crowd dispersed a bit following Jeff Rosenstock, whether it was to buy merch or pregame with a few beers (I overheard one attendee mention it’s best to see The Menzingers while full-blown drunk), but they regained steam once the band began. Fittingly, the set began with the opener off After the Party, highlighting (arguably) the best LP of 2017 so far while simultaneously getting their fans involved. For the first time that night, a handful of people moshed in the lower level, and as they continued into “I Don’t Wanna Be an A**hole Anymore”, the energy level in the room continued to grow. It helped that these tracks are some of the most hook-laden in the group’s catalogue, and the vocal dynamic between Greg Barnett and Tom May turned the show into a high-flying punk sing-along.
The highlight of the band’s set — as is anytime they play — is when they played the first two songs off On the Impossible Past back to back. By the time the shrieking punk of “Good Things” erupted, audience involvement increased to the point of jumping, moshing, and even some crowd surfing. Although “Burn After Writing” is the more melodic track of the two, it didn’t stop fans from continuing to move around. This included a 40-plus-year-old gentlemen, who bounced around the floor with a huge smile on his face the entire set. I couldn’t help but connect the theme of the band’s album to his presence at the show, as he proved that getting older doesn’t have to slow you down. In fact, the amount of older fans at the show were evidence that The Menzingers’ growth over the years had both attracted and maintained folks.
The group play some deeper cuts that wouldn’t be heard in a supporting gig, including “Mexican Guitars”, “Rodent”, and 2011 Run for Cover compilation cut “Irish Goodbyes”. Throughout the set, the pummeling riffs from Barnett and May combined in a similar fashion to their vocals, offsetting aggression and ruggedness with melody and shine. It would’ve been satisfying enough to hear material off their third and fourth albums alone, but adding their new effort was like your parents bringing out that additional present from the basement on Christmas. Of course, the tour focused on After the Party above all else, and that’s why the band ended up playing eight of its 13 songs. Its incorporation into the setlist not only felt natural, but it also added some diversity — specifically an Americana feel.
The hard-edged sentimentality of The Menzingers has made them one of the most beloved punk acts around today, and their performance in Lawrence, Kansas this year was tremendous for that same reason. They ended their set with a song each from their three most recent albums, satisfying fans gained over the previous five-plus years and finishing off a show to remember for punk listeners of all shapes and sizes. The Menzingers’ impeccable energy and anthemic sing-alongs capped off a night of excellent punk with the best performance of the three bands.