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Monday, Feb. 27, 2012

The Promise Ring @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Feb. 24, 2012

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Reunion shows are tricky business, particularly when one is playing songs from very specific moments. For much of the late-1990s, Milwaukee's The Promise Ring was synonymous with "emo," a term that was quickly becoming more and more bastardized as the millennium drew to a close. Their best material was both ragged and catchy, and every time lead vocalist/guitarist Davey von Bohlen's voice endearingly cracked a thousand teenaged hearts fluttered. Like all legends-in-the-making, the band broke up too soon, but not before influencing a whole generation of watered-down copycats.

The band members themselves have moved on to start families and other musical projects and, as they took to the stage in front of a sold-out crowd at Turner Hall Ballroom, they looked like a band with little at stake. This aura, for the most part, fit the band well. The group tore through such early favorites as "Red and Blue Jeans," "A Picture Postcard," and "E. Texas Ave.," from their 1996 split 7-inch EP with Texas is the Reason (when Davey called out this last track it was probably the first time the phrase "split 7-inch with Texas is the Reason" had been uttered since 1998), with a relaxed confidence. There is little doubt that the years have turned the act into a group of crack musicians.


Yet this polished professionalism was also somewhat problematic. Much of the band's charm in their heyday was their youthful geekiness—and recklessness. The songs often got messy and von Bohlen couldn't really sing. Von Bohlen's voice has matured; the guy can sing now. At the same time, there is something a bit odd about watching a group of apparently well-adjusted men sing about unrequited love (particularly with wives and children dotting the stage). Listening to von Bohlen plead "Couldn't you take the second bus home?" on the aforementioned "A Picture Postcard" left me feeling like a voyeur looking at a past that is now long gone.


Not surprisingly, it was material from 1999's Very Emergency that had the most vibrancy and relevancy. Songs such as "Happiness is All the Rage," "Emergency! Emergency!," and "Jersey Shore" celebrated the bliss and contentment that the band has apparently found. As the band hit their stride with the back-to-back combination of "My Heart Skips a Beat" and "The Deep South" they sounded downright revelatory, reminding the audience why the band was once poised to be the next big thing, and why they still matter.

Photo by
CJ Foeckler