Reunions are all the rage, at least for those associated with the 1990s Midwestern emo scene. The past few years have seen many of the genre’s progenitors reunite for shows, and some—such as Braid and the Get Up Kids—have even released new music. Currently, Milwaukee, Wis.’s The Promise Ring is making its rounds on the reunion circuit, and its show at Chicago’s Metro highlighted just what made the band so powerful during its time together.
Davey von Bohlen is no stranger to reuniting his past endeavors—in 2010 he took part in the Cap’n Jazz reunion, and in 2005, a mere three years after its dissolution, The Promise Ring played the Flower 15 Festival at the Metro. To see von Bohlen resuscitate The Promise Ring is certainly no shock, and given how well the band’s output has aged—specifically 1997’s Nothing Feels Good—it is certainly welcomed.
When The Promise Ring walked onto stage it was greeted with the applause of anxious, excited fans. Sadly the band didn’t capitalize on this. Instead of opening with one of its poppy, emo jams, the group started off with “Size of Your Life,” the opening track from the band’s final release, 2002’s Wood/Water. Where the group’s earlier material was all hooky pop for emo kids, Wood/Water was all Beatles worship. It was a divisive record then, and a decade later it still has detractors (yours truly).
Thankfully, after this impasse the band immediately went into a string of songs from 1999s Very Emergency, an album that is much more agreeable amongst fans.
Crowd members sang along emphatically, and the band members were soaking in this positivity. Even with von Bohlen’s voice being noticeably rougher than usual, he refused to let this hinder his performance. He played, it was with a joyous air, and between songs he bantered playfully with the crowd as well as his band mates.
The Promise Ring was hardly perfect during the course of its nearly two-hour long set. Dan Didier missed a cymbal here and there, and von Bohlen’s voice cracked more than usual, but it was all overshadowed by the group’s onstage energy. Not only were the fans reacting wildly to songs like “Is This Thing On?” but the band was just as caught up in the moment as those on the floor.
The Promise Ring’s set was noticeably front-heavy, as many of the group’s fan favorites saw appearances early in the evening. Even with all of the “hits” being played, the group still dropped in Wood/Water songs to certain attendees’ dismay. However, “Stop Playing Guitar” garnered a surprisingly positive reaction from the crowd, so much that von Bohlen flipped his mic stand in the crowd’s direction in order to amplify its already audible chants. This action allowed one audience member–who was obviously not a Wood/Water fan—to quip, “Stop encouraging them.”
As the set wore on, it was the inclusion of these ballads that put a damper on the crowd’s enthusiasm. What started out triumphantly slowly faded as the set wore on. At its onset, the audience was screaming along with all its might—and one overly-energetic attendee tried crowd surfing to “Red & Blue Jeans”—but by the time the band exited the stage, it seemed as if the crowd had been sated. The band returned for an encore, even though the crowd’s cheers were tepid at best.
Had The Promise Ring spread out its high energy numbers throughout its set it would have saved itself from creating an extreme low point right before it was due to head off stage for an encore.
The group returned for its encore, and even though it had just spent the last few songs focusing on slower material it felt inclined to keep that going with yet another ballad in “Feed the Night.” The crowd had become listless, and even when the group kicked in to “Why Did Ever We Meet” the reaction felt slightly stifled because of the previous few songs. Had The Promise Ring balanced its set the energy would have never dipped for too long. Yet, once the energy was gone, The Promise Ring never fully regained the warmth that greeted it at the show’s start.
After its 24th and final song, the band left stage for good. In one night The Promise Ring relived its entire career. It was hefty set, and one best geared toward devotees that celebrate the band’s entire catalog, but even for more casual listeners it still offered up enough classic tracks to make it worthwhile. At the very least, it reminded fans that—for a moment—emo could be fun, and could actually feel good.
The Promise Ring setlist from Metro on Feb. 25, 2012
- “Size of Your Life”
- “Happiness is All the Rage”
- “Emergency! Emergency!”
- “Jersey Shore”
- “Nothing Feels Good”
- “Is This Thing On?”
- “Perfect Lines”
- “B is for Bethlehem”
- “Become One Anything One Time”
- “Skips a Beat (Over You)”
- “The Deep South”
- “Stop Playing Guitar”
- “Red & Blue Jeans”
- “Make Me a Mixtape”
- “A Picture Postcard”
- “E. Texas Ave.”
- “Tell Everyone We’re Dead”
- “My Life is at Home”
- “Get on the Floor”
- “Feed the Night”
- “Why Did Ever We Meet”
- “Red Paint”
- “Everywhere in Denver”
- “Forget Me”