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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Smoking Popes @ Turner Hall Ballroom

May 7, 2010

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A small crowd formed in front of the stage as The Smoking Popes took the stage last Friday, leaving the remainder of the meager audience dispersed through the rest of the hall. Occasionally the sparse ballroom was illuminated by giant flashing bright lights, leaving the crowd dazed.

Its unfortunate the crowd was sparse because the Popes delivered an energetic set that remembered why they were able to grab the spotlight in the mid 1990s with their pop-punk sound, at times reminiscent of The Smiths.

The Popes, the core of which includes the Caterer brothers-—osh on guitar and vocals, Eli on guitar, Matt on bass—were joined by drummer Neil Hennessy (also of The Lawrence Arms). Like-minded bands So-So Radio and The Friendly Lens opened with short sets mirror imaging The Smoking Popes’ sound.

The Popes launched with “Let’s Hear it For Love” and ran through their catalog, including material from their latest album, It’s Been a Long Day, as well as newer songs like “Welcome to Janesville.”

For most of the night, the audience had been sitting around like kids at a high school dance, but they began to show enthusiasm and danced to the catchy “Waiting Around.”

Strangely, one audience member thought the Popes also needed a harmonica player. Dressed in a cowboy hat and vest, he stood by the stage playing along, until he had a heated conversation with a large bald audience member, causing security to intervene. It was an odd confrontation in an otherwise ultra mellow crowd.

Josh Caterer had a very public conversion to Christianity, but he was only vocal about it in one of the songs he sang, and revealed a more secular Popes philosophy to the crowd halfway through the set.

“We’re happy to be alive and playing music—a great combination,” he announced optimistically to the crowd. He also played a few solo songs in the spotlight on acoustic guitar, including “Pure Imagination,” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The Popes saved their most famous tunes for the encore, the punk rock love songs “I Know You Love Me” and “Need You Around.”

Photo by CJ Foeckler