Smoking Popes @ In the Venue 07.12
Snatched up by a major label in the wake of Green Day’s mainstream breakthrough (as were Jawbreaker, Jawbox, Samiam and a bunch of others who have undoubtedly influenced your favorite punk bands), The Smoking Popes are one of the great under-appreciated punk bands of the ‘90s. They took the basic blueprint of Lookout! Records pop punk and filtered it through the romantic and soulful vocals of crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, creating a sound that is truly their own. The Smoking Popes also helped cultivate the Chicago punk scene, which spawned bands like Rise Against, The Lawrence Arms and their current tourmates (and one of the Chicago bands most clearly influenced by the Popes) Alkaline Trio. The group split in 1999, but regrouped in 2005 and have been going strong ever since.
On Tuesday night, Alkaline Trio was celebrating the release of Damnesia, their collection of acoustic “re-imaginings” of old songs to commemorate their fifteenth year of existence. I was there strictly for the Popes. In my experience, many Alkaline Trio fans are annoying, attention-starved girls who get equally pissed whether they catch you staring at their ridiculous chest tattoo or you fail to make any mention of their ridiculous chest tattoo. The male portion of the crowd donned their finest Abercrombie and and Aeropostale gear, and I spotted a few Affliction shirts and even a Metal Mulisha hat. Good crowd, right? And I hate to be “that guy,” but I really couldn’t get into the Trio’s last four or five albums, so I had little reason to stick around for their set--sorry dudes.
When the Smoking Popes’ brotherly trio of vocalist/guitarist Josh Caterer, guitarist Eli Caterer and bassist Matt Caterer took the stage, they got a bigger pop from the crowd than I expected. Maybe they were just excited for music of any kind to start, but there were definitely a healthy amount of Popes fans present. I must confess that part of the reason I wanted to see the band was because Neil Hennessy of The Lawrence Arms, one of my favorite bands in the whole entire world, is now drumming for them, and I’ll do anything to see any member of the Lawrence Arms live, even if they aren’t playing Lawrence Arms songs.
For a bunch of dudes approaching middle age, the Smoking Popes brought plenty of energy throughout their set.They played a pair of classics from Born to Quit (which I consider one of the essential albums for all nerdy, sexless teenagers), in “Rubella” and “Need You Around,” and dug deep for “Brand New Hairstyle,” which features what is undoubtedly the gnarliest guitar duel the Popes ever recorded. Josh Caterer even injected some of the lyrics of the Violent Femmes’ “Please Do Not Go” (from another essential album for nerdy, sexless teenagers) into the middle of the song. The crowd even got riled up enough to form a pretty intense pit during the song, in contrast to what was an otherwise mellow set.
The band followed that up with “Writing a Letter,” during which the crowd responded with what Josh Caterer called the most polite pit he had ever seen. They also played “Megan,” which they introduced by mentioning that Bayside had recently covered it to some applause, and three cuts from their new album This is Not a Test (including the not-so-good “Diary of a Teenage Tragedy”... but the rest of the set made up for it). The Popes closed out their hour-long set with a great rendition of “I Know You Love Me,” which saw Josh abandon his guitar to writhe about on his knees while he belted his lungs out.
It’s always great to see a band with a big fanbase bring their influences on tour with them, hopefully expanding their audience and giving them a better idea of where the band comes from. I may not be a big fan of the Alkaline Trio these days, but I think it’s awesome that the Smoking Popes are opening for them on this tour. Without the Popes, Alkaline Trio may have never even formed. To see the crowd react to them and actually enjoy the set was refreshing, and I hope the reaction they saw will lead to even bigger crowds catching the Smoking Popes next time they roll into Salt Lake.
Smoking Popes @ In the Venue 07.12