The Promise Ring
Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012,
Better than: Still being a overly hormonal teenager.
Cast your minds back, if you will, to the mid-'90s, when emo was first starting to spread globally as a musical concept. Based generally on the idea that being a massive wuss and playing guitar-heavy music weren't mutually exclusive, emo-core (yes, there used to be a "core" on the end) prevailed thanks to its trademark quiet-loud dynamics and an audience of angsty, emotional misfits. The Promise Ring was one of the leaders of the pack -- sensitive guitar nerds in spectacles and unflattering sweaters, singing about girls and geography and tiny moments of beauty that other boys with guitars were too tough to point out. The Promise Ring was fucking awesome -- if a little whiny.
The band hasn't released an album since 2002, and this summer's reunion tour has been spread out in two- or three-date clusters across the entire season. Tonight is the last of those, and frontman Davey von Bohlen isn't at all averse to making jokes about the aging nature of the band and its current stamina levels. Von Bohlen's cute on-stage banter with guitarist Jason Gnewikow
invariably ends with him insisting that he's "24" or yelling: "Don't
yell 'Justin Bieber' at me because I'm younger than you and I sweep my
hair to the side and look good in skinny jeans!"
The oldster emo jokes aren't just for the vocalist's bandmates, either. He openly refers to himself as "aging," and, an hour in, he sighs in a pronounced, but obviously tongue-in-cheek manner that: "This is tiring!" All these quips are for the best though, considering that to not
mention the passage of time would be a gigantic elephant firmly planted in this middle of this respectably full but not densely packed room. This audience is all of a similar age -- mid-30s -- and the set tonight clearly takes a lot of folk back to their teens.
The front rows contain clusters of grinning women dancing and yelling lyrics at the band, fists in the air, embracing each other and clearly having the greatest nostalgia fest of all time. One guy in glasses bounces up and down like a 14-year-old (he is around 40). During "Red Paint." the first song of the encore, one guy sees fit to launch himself off the stage in a ridiculously haphazard dive -- something that visibly surprises and delights drummer Dan Didier, prompting him to chuckle for a full two minutes.
All of the above means this is far from the misery-fest that many non-emo-fans would expect. There are dark moments, of course -- "Stop Playing Guitar" is heart-wrenching; "Nothing Feels Good" is gorgeous; "A Picture Postcard" is slowed down even further than on record (and arrives surprisingly early in the set); and "Tell Everyone We're Dead" prompts such passion in von Bohlen that he looks like he may do himself harm.