Very, very rarely do I ever contemplate not going to see one of my favorite bands. Especially if I don’t have to travel very far. But the day the Smoking Popes came to town, I spent just about every minute up until the 9:00 p.m. showtime deciding whether or not to go. The main reasons were something along the lines of just having moved to Minneapolis, having no job, no friends to go with and certainly no money to be throwing around on luxuries like punk shows. Then there was also the deterrent that not only had I already seen the Popes once (for their sold-out reunion at the Metro in Chicago) plus Josh Caterer on his solo tour with the Local H guy, but what kind of a hapless moron goes to a Smoking Popes show without a date? You know you’re either going to be hearing painfully cute songs about love and devotion or bittersweet breakup songs that make you want to curl up in a ball and cry for days about the one that got away. I’m still not sure why, but by the time 8:45 rolled around, I hopped on my new vintage hipster 10-speed and headed across town towards the Triple Rock.
The local openers were a band of Wisconsin high-schoolers called Melange. If you already know the origin of this name, you are a nerd and you would probably like this band. They played a heavy, mathy style of prog with very few vocals and looong compositions. They weren’t what I was expecting from a Smoking Popes opener, but they certainly weren’t bad for 18-year-olds.
The Fast Track followed and were what I was expecting for an opener. While they were fairly competent in their catchy pop-rock/emo songwriting, their stature suggested a bit of overgrown high-schooler syndrome, and the lead singer’s protruding nipples from his tight white shirt were somewhat of a painful distraction. Nevertheless, the band’s ambition was apparent, as their newest material was recorded (produced?) by local semi-icon Jamie Wolford of Animal Chin and the Stereo fame (who has apparently still not paid his debt to MPLS), while their sense of humor shined, joking about their live cover being their best song because they didn’t write it. At the very least, they were able to draw some applause and audience participation (read as “clapping along”) from Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack who was in attendance, which if you’re a local band with bigger aspirations never hurts.
As the Smoking Popes prepared to go on, I realized that it was not Mike Felumlee gearing up behind the kit as billed, but Neil Hennessy of the beloved Lawrence Arms! (Plus, I remembered reading about it on the ‘Org from a few weeks back.) This made sense since Eli Caterer of the Smoking Popes filled in on guitar with the Falcon the last time I saw them, and only helped to make the experience all the more memorable. Opening with the “new” song “If You Don’t Care” that I’ve been listening to MySpace streams of for over a year, the Caterer brothers (plus Neil) plugged through a variety of Popes favorites for the attentive but disappointingly modest-sized crowd. Granted, it was a “Monday night / +18 / 9:00 p.m. doors” show, but I feel like more people should be into the Smoking Popes as much as I am. Among the highlights were personal favorites that often goes unappreciated in “Under the Blanket” and “Writing a Letter,” heart-wrenchers “Paul,” “Let’s Hear It for Love” and “Megan,” (to which Josh Caterer gave a shout-out to Bayside for their cover, though I think Bad Astronaut’s is much better) new material like the retooled version of “Stefanie” and the Truman Capote-inspired “The Corner” and an encore that included the beautifully crushing “Pretty Pathetic” before ending on an uplifting note with “Brand New Hairstyle” (the extended version with more soloing than Ramblin’ Rose) and “I Know You Love Me.”
All things considered, I was happy I’d invested 12 of my very small collection of dollars in the show, having come out even less depressed than when I entered, despite still being jobless, dateless and friendless. My only regret is that I didn’t have more money to pick up their new CD, which will be one of the first things on my list if/when I get hired.
Look to the right for your viewing pleasure
(courtesy of Neil Hennessy)