The Brothers Barnett at The Lexington
“It’s really cool that this drunken plan worked out”, Greg Barnett (The Menzingers) tells the Lexington crowd. He’s halfway through his set on the final date of a UK tour with his brother Bobby (Captain, We’re Sinking). Twenty minutes earlier he’d asked his dad to grab his forgotten set list from the dressing room. The tour came about when they were watching football, drinking and had the idea of “a vacation where they play a bunch of shows”, and the gig does feel a bit like a family holiday. On top of the present family members, the merchandise being sold is for ‘Barnett’s Boat Yard’ – a real business that their grandfather and great-grandfather used to run, and where Greg and Bobby used to play when they were younger. Consequently, the whole show feels rather unique. Invited into the family affair is the excellent Brightr, who opens the evening and plays a passionate and very technically impressive set; the man knows his way around a guitar.
Bobby opens up the Barnett section of the show, and plays only ‘Captain, We’re Sinking’ tracks tonight rather than his solo material. He opens with ‘Montreal’ and right from the off there’s a wonderful contrast of the joyous smile on his face with the rather sad refrain; “have you seen my life, it’s like I don’t even try”. This is a feature that is repeated throughout the performance. Captain, We’re Sinking have never toured the UK and there are a core group of fans that sing the choruses back with a joy and zest only matched by Bobby himself. Captain, We’re Sinking draw more heavily from the pop punk / emo school than The Menzingers, so it’s a less obvious transition to an acoustic show, but Bobby dives in with reckless abandon. His enthusiasm and the crowd, clearly eager to finally hear these songs live, carry the faster songs like ‘Brother’, whilst the slower numbers like ‘More Tequila, Less Joe’ transfer more naturally and enable him to inject a lot of emotion into the lyrics. It’s a great performance and if this night is an indication of the audiences throughout the run, there is certainly an appetite for a Captain, We’re Sinking full band tour of the UK.
In the minutes before Greg’s set, The Lexington, which had already been mostly full for much of the evening, reaches a tightly packed capacity. The Menzingers are a tour de force in this scene and it shows, drawing in characters that would normally be found at NoFX shows to share a space with Sam Russo and The Gaslight Anthem fans. There are many reasons for this; their varied influences and changing style, their sense of community, spirit and working class ethos, and their relentless touring and work ethic, but it’s largely because they’re fucking good.
Greg takes to the stage with a Bernie Sanders beer cosy wrapped around a can and a disarming smile. He begins with two tracks from On The Impossible Past, the album that really gave them their breakthrough, ‘Gates’ and ‘The Obituaries’, with ‘Times Tables’, a highlight from Chamberlain Waits, sandwiched in between. All three garner massive beers-to-the-sky singalong moments, with the refrain from The Obituaries, “I will fuck this up, I fucking know it”, getting as rousing a response as it would from a full band set at a festival. On The Impossible Past gets the most play, but a few Rented World favourites like I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, In Remission and Where Your Heartache Exists are thrown in too. Two highlights are acoustic rarities ‘Sun Hotel Part 2’ and ‘My Friend Chris’, whilst ‘Deep Sleep’ from Chamberlain Waits is given an extra verse that was cut from the original song, all of which make the set seem rather unique.
The Menzingers songs still sound brilliant stripped back, partly because they are originally written on Greg’s acoustic guitar, but mostly because a good song is a good song even if you strip away the production, and these are some fucking good songs. Greg is also excellent as a solo frontman, changing the pace of his singing during choruses and using the crowd – who are singing along to the album version of songs – to create extra layers. Casey, perhaps the quintessential The Menzingers singalong – grounded but romantic, rough but poetic, fast but soulful – brings the house down and he ends with a fun and ever so slightly silly crescendo of Irish Goodbyes.
The blizzard in Philadelphia meant their flights the next day had been cancelled, so Greg left the stage with an invitation for everyone to stick around for a few drinks; a fitting end to an evening that perfectly broke down the distance between band and fan. Given their busy schedules in The Menzingers and Captain, We’re Sinking, it’s unlikely that we’ll get another Barnett brothers tour anytime soon. That this wasn’t a full time thing definitely added to the wonderfully relaxed atmosphere however. It did feel, as Greg put it, that rather than a serious tour this was a ‘vacation with some shows’, and the Barnett’s were nice enough to let us take a couple hours holiday with them.