The Promise Ring at Varsity Theater, 6/27/12

Categories: Last Night
CP-Promise-Ring-14-Promise Ring.jpg
Photo by Erik Hess

See Also:
The Promise Ring's Dan Didier: "Never say never" about recording new material

The Promise Ring
With Grant Hart and Mark Mallman
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Promise Ring is back together, but the time is fleeting. They aren't on tour per se, but are doing a series of one-off or weekend-long stays at cities around the country and then, just like in 2002, they will be done -- this time for good. There is no new material, no plans to record. But we have what they gave us in the late '90s and early '00s and at the disappointingly only half-full Varsity Theater on Wednesday night they gave us two hours of their best material from those years when "emo" wasn't yet a dirty word and TPR was unapologetically more in touch with their feelings that almost any other band operating.

Opening with "Size of Your Life" from 2002's Wood/Water, TPR got the night off to a hopeful, tentative start, but the air in the room quickly shifted as they followed up with "Happiness is All the Rage" the opening track to 1999's power-pop masterpiece, Very Emergency. They followed that up with the song that follows it on that album, "Emergency! Emergency!" and really how couldn't they? Anyone who is familiar with Very Emergency is well aware that those songs are inextricably linked via Dan Didier's pounding drum fill that serves as both a denouement and beginning in the space of about three seconds.

With just three songs they proved that, without question, the Promise Ring still "has it," whatever that might be, and as the set rolled along it seemed that any lingering questions about the timing their breakup -- and there were many a decade ago -- were laid to rest. From stage the band seemed to operating like the very embodiment of a soft machine, but would they had they pushed TPR along for even one more record? The answer is likely "no."

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Photo by Erik Hess

The rhythm section of TPR was always the great strength of this band and it was no different on Wednesday as Didier and bassist Scott Schoenbeck flexed their chops when necessary but mostly just screwed the songs down tightly with a workman's-like approach on "Jersey Shore" and "Red & Blue Jeans."

Lead singer Davey von Bohlen's banter from the stage was amusing, but proved to be a little too much as the set wore on, though at one point his gentle slapping of St. Paul, "Is this really the 'Twin Cities,' like you guys care about St. Paul? That's not true," brought some levity into the passage in the set that was the heaviest. "A Picture Postcard," which brought several showgoers literally to tears, proved to still be as affecting -- maybe even moreso, given that most fans have experienced a great deal of adulthood since it's release -- as it was on their 1996 debut 30° Everywhere, as did "Stop Playing Guitar." They threw the lighter "Deep South" in the mix for a ray of light but it was definitely the most introspective portion of the evening.

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Photo by Erik Hess

The set headed toward it's end in a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust manner with the driving "Is This Thing On?" and "Perfect Lines" which feels like standing in a babbling brook as it swells into a raging river. "B is For Bethlehem" was in there somewhere toward the, honestly, fairly sloppy end with the time between songs stretching into several minutes at points and von Bohlen still humorously beating up on St. Paul here and there.

The set ended and they came out for a too long, too obscure five-song encore that included some very early work, some of which showed it's age, but closed, appropriately with "Forget Me" from NFG. It was a fitting end to a long set from a band that's revered but holds a cult status as well. We, of course can't forget them, but they will be gone for good soon. What we're left with however, is more than enough, even if we don't think it is.

Critic's Bias: Watching this show in an objective manner was a challenge. I like other bands more than TPR, but never have I clung so hard, so quickly to a band than I did when I first heard them.

The Crowd: Mid-to-late 30s, though there were some younger in the crowd, too. All of them singing along to virtually every word then entire time.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I'll be right back. I'm going to leave this drink here and you can roofie it if you want, just don't tell me if you do."

Random Tidbit: Opener Mark Mallman sat in on keys with the band for the entire set. 

CP-Promise-Ring-13-Promise Ring.jpg
Photo by Erik Hess

See Also:
The Promise Ring's Dan Didier: "Never say never" about recording new material

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