Sunday, June 8, 2008

Smoking Popes/The Mannequin Men -- Metro, June 7, 2008

It was a humid night in Chicago, and that meant the environs of Metro were very steamy. Hey guys, spring for some AC!

This gig was a record release show for the Smoking Popes. Stay Down is the band's first studio set since Destination Failure. I missed the first support act, Sundowner, but came right on time to see The Mannequin Men.

The Men are a true rock and roll band, mixing sleazy garage rock with influences like Television and The Velvet Underground, and a wild front man in Kevin Richards. The band's 2007 release, Fresh Rot, was one of my favorite albums of last year (see my review of that album by clicking here.

In a 40 minute or so set, the band played a few Rot songs, mixed with some new things, and maybe a old one or two (yeah, I need to get the band's first album). The new songs were consistent with the last album's material -- strong drumming, stabbing guitars and strong choruses. Other highlights were the melodic "22nd Century" and the fierce "Private School".

The band seemed to deliberately overmodulate its sound, the guitars buzzing and feeding back throughout. This seemed to enhance the music. I'm not sure if the youngish crowd was really into such a great molten hot rock performance.

Youngish? Yes, while the Popes were broken up as Josh Caterer found Jesus, the lead singer of Dashboard Confessional, Chris Whineypants, mentioned that "Pretty Pathetic", a track from the Popes' Destination Failure album, was the foundation for his material. Which it obviously is. A sweet chronicle of a guy handling a break up poorly, this song perfectly captures a teenage perspective. The mention by Mr. Whineypants spurred sales of the album and made it a beloved Popes track.

During the band's performance, which actually starts with just Josh singing and playing guitar, he acknowledged the hundreds of kids singing out loud, letting them carry the song at points. At the end, the whole band kicked in and the crowd was sated.

Leading up to "Pathetic", the penultimate song in the regular set, was a mix of various Popes songs, proving the band to be the closest thing in pop-punk to Cheap Trick. Caterer's sweet crooner's voice is made for classic melodies, and he has penned a slew of them over the years. "Writing a Letter", "Just Broke Up", "Gotta Know Right Now" and "I Know You Love Me" are just some of the five-star songs that are staples of the Popes' set. These tunes belong in the pop-punk panthenon with best work of The Undertones, Descendents, Pointed Sticks and Buzzcocks.

The "I Want You To Want Me" of the Popes' repetoire is "Need You Around", which was the one number where Josh shed the guitar while brother Eli wailed away on his six-string, brother Matt rocked on the bass (he's the animated Caterer, bouncing around all of the time) and new drummer Neil Hennessey (who packs quite a wallop) kept thing moving. Josh then could really play the crooner, emoting every word and gesturing to the crowd. The band then added a Cheap Trick-ish ending to the classic.

This song was preceded by the best new song of the set, the title cut from Stay Down. This is a very traditional slow rock number, suitable for slow dancing at prom.

The crowd loved every minute of it. To hear such happy pop songs played with such buzzing energy is a real treat.


Slack-a-gogo said...

"...the closest thing in pop-punk to Cheap Trick."

Just that line alone makes me wish I saw the show. I broke out those first two records a while ago and forgot how many great songs that they have in their arsenal. I still have to see them in the reformed version, which from everything I've heard, is tighter and even better than they were the first go around.

Anonymous said...

Rats, now I'm really sorry to have missed it, although I don't think I would have survived the weather in that place.