The Promise Ring @ Varsity Theater
June 27th, 2012
I grew up on them. I can still remember that a certain shy brunette girl in middle school gave me a mixtape ironically opening with "Make Me A Mixtape." From then on, The Promise Ring led my way into various aspects of the music world, and inevitably into work here at the K (not to mention a very innocent teen fling). Being too young to catch them in their prime, and having missed their 2005 reunion, there was absolutely no way I was going to allow me to miss the 90s Milwaukee greats again - especially knowing the rumors, that are likely truth, that this is surely the end for the project.
The Promise Ring defined the latter end of the emo movement, and along with bands like The Get Up Kids, helped it evolve into a more mellow version of the punk offshoot, characterized similar to "indie-pop." They started out as a side project of Davey von Bohlen when he was playing with one of the most influential emo bands of all time, Cap'n Jazz - and sure enough, The Promise Ring became nearly as legendary.
I arrived late, unfortunately missing the openers. Though I was assured their sets were wonderful, I cannot speak on it. However, I do know that Mark Mallman stayed on the keys for The Promise Ring's entire set, and it worked - well. The Varsity was not as packed as I had expected, though it may be attributable to many fans choosing to see them the next night in their hometown, playing at Summerfest, and a variety of other events occurring throughout The Cities. Yet, the crowd was full of energy and anticipation - and not a single person there was regretful on their decision to come.
The tracks they chose to play were fitting; the set starting with "Size of Your Life" off of 2002's Wood/Water and going right into "Happiness" and "SOS" off of Very Emergency. Shortly thereafter, "Make Me A Mixtape" came on, and a few members of the audience surely recognized the shout out to St. Paul, throwing their hands up with a yell to the lyrics "Don't leave out Husker Du." However, those who recognized the reference seemed to be lacking, and Davey von Bohlen from then on kept making a point of teasing St. Paul, humorously asking the audience, "Have you forgotten your sister city?" The crowd was digging it, but it wasn't until Davey von Bohlen stated his intent on a "fast one," and shot right into "Is This Thing On?" until the audience seemed to give it their all. From then on, members of the crowd were bopping around and singing along; even a few couples were giving it a little swing. Lovers were appropriately cuddling and kissing on the adjacent couches, and I swear I saw more than one person tear up. None of this is any wonder, as The Promise Ring's lyrical and musical content really emphasizes on 90s emo topics - the scene seemed fitting for an episode of Dawson's Creek - which I mean in the best of ways. Though, rather than taking place in the fictional town of Capside, the Twin Cities mentality cast an allure over the room.
The band played for about an hour and a half, with a starting set of twenty tracks. After a short leave, they marched back on for a five song encore including hits "Why Did Ever We Meet" and "Red Paint." An audience member shouted, "Play us something you won't play in Milwaukee," to which von Bohlen replied with sarcasm about how great it would be to play tracks they have not practiced in ten years. The set ended appropriately, with "Forget Me," though they will not be forgotten by
All in all, the show was exactly what I expected. Tight, though at points a tad sloppy. The members have aged, but not as much as one would expect. And the crowd, though having matured past much of the song content in the last ten years, loved every second. If by chance they come around again, do yourself a favor and catch a part of Midwestern music history.
My only complaint: They didn't play "Electric Pink."
Written by Morgan Luther, Radio K volunteer