Sunday, June 8, 2008

June 7, 2008: Smoking Popes at Metro

A hot and muggy outdoor Chicago night made for a cool indoor show at the Metro on Saturday, June 7, 2008, where the Smoking Popes got together and played its record release gig for "Stay Down" last night. Opening acts were Chris McCaughan's (guitarist/vocalist of the Lawrence Arms) solo project, Sundowner, and Mannequin Men.
Chris is always a treat to see. I never know when it'll be just his words and a guitar, with Jenny Choi or with a full band backing his tunes. Last night, Jenny Choi joined him on cello, keys and vocals. They are truly a great musical duet. Jenny compliments Chris so well and vice versa. Like Sonny and Cher...only good.
After Sundowner was Mannequin Men. They have a really strong indie sound, which I know is broad. But think Interpol's instrumentals crossed with the Goo Goo Dolls' vocalist. Their bastard spawn would be Mannequin Men. I was so hungry and tired of standing by that point, I was considering going across the street to Wrigleyville Dogs, but upon trying to leave, the Metro staff made a point that we can't come back in if we leave. I guess I can't blame them for wanting all the people in attendance to buy their crappy, warm expensive beer. It's just frustrating knowing that at the Gingerman, next door, I can get a tall, cold pint of PBR for $3 and SIT in a cool area with good company, rather than a shitty plastic cup of Miller Lite for $5 at the Metro and have to stand in fear of some big asshole's sweat droplets falling into my cup.
Anyways, after what seemed like forever, the Smoking Popes took the stage. When I say the Smoking Popes, I mean Neil Hennessy from the Lawrence Arms on drums (man, did he rip last night!) with the three Caterer brothers; Eli on guitar/ backing vocals, Josh on guitar/vocals and Matt on bass/jumping around.
They opened with a new song titled, "If You Don't Care," which is a great tune, familiar, thanks to their MySpace profile. Very appropriate, being a record release shindig and all.
Afterwards, they cut into old ones like "Rubella" and "Gotta Know Right Now." After the crowd was reassured by hearing some old gems, the Popes tried out a couple more new ones, "Stay Down"'s opening track, "Welcome To Janesville," and title track, "Stay Down."
Afterwards, they played "Megan" (which apparently, there are a shitload of YouTube videos of people singing and playing that song, to which Josh proposed a contest, prize unknown), "Just Broke Up," "Do Something," and my favorite, "Need You Around." I like the newer ending to "Need You Around," where they jam it out. It can be heard on the 2005 Metro reunion album.
Another new one, "Grab Your Heart and Run" was played next. That song is hands down my favorite off "Stay Down." All of their new tracks are catchy in that traditional pop sense, and Josh's signature croon ties it all together, making one kick ass song. "Stefanie" is really slow, but it serves as a nice break on the new album, placed as the third track, so that when the generally-faster songs pick up, it comes as more of a surprise than just one flowing into the other, which is awesome too. Riverdales, anyone?
They played "Writing a Letter" after that, which is one of my personal favorites for being just an all around fun song. Afterwards, they played "Sweet Pea," which is Neil's favorite track off the new album to play, as they established on stage.
"Let's Hear It For Love" was played, followed by a short acoustic set by Josh, in which he played the newly renovated acoustic version of "The First Time" and an older gem, but more upbeat, "My Lucky Day."
Matt came back out a little too early, eager to grab his bass after Josh finished playing "The First Time," but quickly turned around to join the rest of the band hanging out on the side of stage right.
After the band reclaimed their instruments, they played "Brand New Hairstyle" and Josh played "Pretty Pathetic" with Eli, both playing their electric guitars. Towards the end of the song, the full band backed the guitars and vocals with some support and finished it out nicely. They did that on the Metro album as well.
Their encore consisted of an elongated "I Know You Love Me," "Ramblin' Rose" and "Off My Mind."
Being my first time seeing the Smoking Popes, I was impressed. It was a great hearing the tracks I've loved for a long time now being performed live at the Metro with some present-day, in the now recordings. Unfortunately, I missed the 2005 reunion, so it was nice to catch up three years down the road with the release of a new album.
With 11 years between the Popes' last studio release, "Destination Failure" and "Stay Down," Josh's vocals don't seem to have aged a bit. The element of time is nonexistent between the gap, which, lucky for us fans, is bridged by a handful of live shows and a reunion album. It was a real treat getting to see the Smoking Popes for the first time. Even Neil was saying before the show how stoked he was to be playing with them, because they were a band he grew up listening to. Brandon from Rise Against told me the same thing after the show at Wrigleyville Dogs, how he grew up listening to the Popes, and now he's seeing them as an adult.
It's really nice hearing guys older than me and way more influential and all-around cool admit how the Popes had an influence on them growing up and how important and meaningful it is to see them now. Although I missed out on the Popes' "prime" (which is subject to debate, because this new album is awesome), I think the feeling is mutual. Being able to talk to musicians about something together, both as fans, is intriguing. It showed me that regardless of age difference and fame (or semi-fame), we are all fans of something on the inside, putting us all in the same boat on any given sticky, muggy Chicago summer night.

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