All Words: Shona Fenner — All Photos: Farrah Skeiky
Rumors and whisperings about a reunion of Milwaukee band The Promise Ring have been popping up on the internet for awhile before we were given substantial proof. It has been about a decade since the band broke up and they have been dearly missed. The emo phase in music has passed and we look back on the days of shouting Bright Eyes and Saves The Day lyrics fondly. Remembering your youthful indiscretions with a smile as you go about your shockingly adult life. Something like that. One can only handle so much of this maturity and logical thinking. We all need a healthy dose of introspective love songs with catchy hooks. Some of us need that more than others to keep the residual teen angst at bay. Thankfully The Promise Ring plays music with the same youthful exuberance as they did before the millennium.
I was surprised how well The Promise Ring’s song have held up as time passed. Singer Davey von Bohlen seemed sort of surprised as well. He has found success about the break up in Cap’n Jazz and Maritime, but played Friday’s 9:30 Club show as if he still lived and breathed The Promise Ring. Although the band is conscious of how music has changed in the past 10 years. Prior to launching into the encore Bohlen informed us that they were going to play some of the really old songs just to prove how they aren’t quite what they used to be. The crowd didn’t care about that though and got the more excited the older and more embarrassing the songs became. Get your fix of the 1997 and watch the video for “Why Did We Ever Meet”.
Before our headliners graced the stage a Washington, DC band kicked off the night. The room was remarkably empty as Title Tracks began playing. I had assumed that this show would sell out given that it was a Friday night and the commitment of fans. But even as Title Tracks finished their set the venue was far from hitting capacity. The balcony crowd was sparse enough that people were sitting down and still having an easy view of the stage. Where was everybody?
Title Tracks struck me as one of those cool indie pop prom bands in a late 90s movie. They would be perfect to play behind the dramatic storyline of high school romance. Admittedly I liked the quips between each song more than the songs themselves. Singer John Davis is incredibly charming when introducing a song with “…this one is called Clench You Fists (A Little Closer to Me). It’s about forgiveness but I don’t know if I mean it anymore.” Oh dear, more songs with feelings… dare I say emo? Musically they sounded a bit frozen in time at the same time as The Promise Ring. This makes them a fitting choice to open but also didn’t grab my attention. Our lovely photographer and I spent the last 15 minutes of their set eating nachos and patiently listening with most of our focus on melted cheese. Looking around we saw everyone paying attention and sometimes nodding along but unfortunately Title Tracks did not get the same audience love as our eagerly anticipated headliner.
The Promise Ring are cited as being among the forefathers of emo existing. A song title was even borrowed for a book on the topic called Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo by Andy Greenwald. If you can take a second to read through this one I guarantee you will unearth your old CD case and listen to Sunny Day Real Estate alone in your room all night. While I am unsure if that is a good thing or a bad thing I can tell that The Promise Ring’s songs about relationships, love, and disillusionment are good enough for me to quit talking about emo as it has that certain connotation that makes us all roll our eyes.
Their set sampled from all EPs and full lengths. Personal favorites could be identified as clusters of people cheered after hearing just a few familiar chords. Like always the crowd of Washingtonians stood stalk still most of the time. Little outbursts of exuberant dancing happened a couple times right in front but generally we were a somber lot. I found myself standing still most of the show as I waited for my personal favorite song “Electric Pink” that just never came.
Throughout the show Davey Von Bohlen kept mentioning LinkedIn. It started after some comment from the crowd and he shot back a clever comment. You have got to love a band that engages the audience. He did not just engage us but joked around, making fun of all of us for ever bothering to update our LinkedIn profiles. It should come as no surprise that I just sent him an invitation to “connect”. I need to know more accountants anyway. The passage of time is shocking when you see a band like this years after their heyday. Everyone is a little older, a little heavier, and moving on in life with families and tax jobs at Kohl’s. Fingers crossed that he accepts my request and we are networked together on the internet forever.