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There's a popular theory that if you ever want to be relevant in your art form, the best career move you can make is to die. Then everyone will suddenly love your work and everything you ever did or said.
Sure, there's that. Or your emo band can break up and reunite for two shows ten years later. That works too.
(See the slide show after the jump.)
It's preshow and I'm in the photo pit at the sold-out Promise Ring reunion at the Metro on Saturday night. It's that moment in between bands when everyone's getting antsy—the house music has been playing a little too long; we're getting tired of looking at guitar techs tune guitars. Right behind me are the front-row stakers—those who have probably been there since doors-o'clock, dangling their limbs a little too far over the railing and thus getting all up in my precious photo-pit grill. The dude behind me couldn't have been more than 12 years old when the Promise Ring packed the Fireside Bowl in 1998, yet when he catches a glimpse through the doorway that leads backstage, he reacts with more girly enthusiasm than even I could feign: "Ohmygod! IjustsawDAVEY!"
The lights go out and the audience loses their shit. Wait. The band hasn't even done anything yet. And by anything, I mean they haven't even walked onstage. In their fake death, they have become THAT good.
If you lived anywhere along the latitude of Iowa City, IA, and Akron, OH, circa the late 90s, there's a good chance you liked the Promise Ring. And if you loved the Promise Ring, you LOVED the Promise Ring. If you hated it, well then, you HATED it. But any band that provokes such extremes is worth a reunion.
And OK, I'll admit it. Even though I could take them or leave them the first time around, I have since mythologized the Promise Ring in my mind. Now, as I stare deep into the indie-rock glory hole, I remember TPR as a beautiful, sloppy ruckus at the Empty Bottle, a well-composed pop-punk mess at the Fireside. Davey von Bohlen's Doug Martsch-esque vocal stylings that we used to adore so much are suddenly planted firmly atop my 90s-nostalgia pedestal. So in a way, I get why Front-Row Superfan who's probably never seen them live and has only heard the legend might get a little star fucker-y about it.
A friend recently said, "The Velvet Underground was the best band in the world, but no one ever got to see them because they weren't cool enough." Maybe that's true. Maybe they weren't cool . . . until the rest of us decided they were cool after the fact. It wasn't until we discovered our dad's warped record, or our college crush made us listen to Loaded, or our older brother told us it was cool, that we found it cool.
While I wouldn't elevate the Promise Ring to Velvet Underground status, it's true that even though TPR's coolness was questionable in some circles, they did pave a road that was instrumental in bringing the emo underground into the harsh light of day. They walked that fine line between being indie and being accessible, thus doing their service to the wider audience. But die-hard indie rockers didn't want accessible. And "accessible" wanted indie rock. As fate would have it, TPR fell low on the rungs of the die-hard indie rock hierarchy because they played music that subscribed to the antithesis. Their pop-riffs-meets-dirty-guitars aesthetic was reminiscent of the popular quarterback trying to get down with the art-school nerd. TPR was Blane McDonough getting in Andie Walsh's pants. But since then, their legend as a voice of the 90s has seeped into the younger generations. Even people like me, who were on the fence at the time, are finding themselves appreciating that sound and its role, if only because we're grasping for any living shrapnel from the 90s.
In other confessions, I'm finally ripping Nothing Feels Good to my iTunes as we speak. I'm just now getting around to doing this. I still have the CD I bought at a show in '97 and it's also one of the few CDs that I never sold back to Reckless—not even in one of my darkest financial hours, which, for the record, have gotten pretty dark. So I guess that's saying something, right? And now that I'm listening to it again, I've officially decided that if my little cousin's college crush shows her the Promise Ring while they sit on her dorm-room floor some rainy afternoon, I would think that's pretty fucking cool.