Saturday: The Promise Ring and Rhythm & Booms on the Terrace

I fear I don’t have the linguistic skills to effectively describe how amazing tomorrow’s show is going to be, and specifically how important The Promise Ring has been to Wisconsin and shaping music as it is today. I take comfort in knowing that many who will read this are probably aware of the reunited Milwaukee band’s illustrious career. For those that aren’t, I’ll do my best to show you why this is a concert that many have been waiting for more than a decade to happen.

Let’s start at the end. In 2002, The Promise Ring called it quits after seven years as a band, to the chagrin of a devout fanbase. Frontman Davey von Bohlen went on to create Maritime with drummer Dan Didier, Scott Schoenback went on to play bass with Dashboard Confessional, and guitarist Jason Gnewikow did graphic design work for bands. With each member carrying on successful careers, many wondered if a The Promise Ring reunion tour would ever occur. 2005 saw a one-off in Chicago for Flowerbooking’s 15th Anniversary, but after the show the band went quiet again… until November of last year. At that time, it was announced a rarities album would be released this summer through Dangerbird Records. and the band would play two February shows, at Turner Hall in Milwaukee and The Metro in Chicago. A barrage of articles from virtually every esteemed music publication followed. Both the 900+ capacity Turner Hall and 1100+ capacity Metro sold out. Lucky for us, those two shows paved the way for a summer tour.

So, what did this Milwaukee band – which was never meant to last more than one performance at its inception – do in its seven-year lifespan that kept fans sitting on the edge of their seats hoping for a reunion for a decade? Simply put, they were at the forefront of a movement – along with bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Braid, The Dismemberment Plan, Jawbreaker, and Get Up Kids – that popularized emo through infusing it with pop. It’s important to distinguish that the term “emo” had a different connotation at that time, originally coined in the late 80’s to distinguish punk bands that had shifted lyrical themes to a focus on the individual rather than the “punk community” and politics. To a new, present-day listener, The Promise Ring would probably be characterized as an “indie rock” band, owing much to the fact that The Promise Ring did much to influence the direction of the indie rock scene today with dancey, personal, guitar-driven songs.

To do justice to The Promise Ring’s history would make for a long read. I’ll do my best to be adequate with a single-digit number of sentences, but if you have the time, I highly recommend you check out the A.V. Club Chicago’s fantastic “Oral History of The Promise Ring” piece from February. Here are the cliff notes:

The Promise Ring started as a creative outlet for Davey von Bohlen, who was a member of beloved Chicago band Cap’n Jazz at the time but didn’t have much creative input. After a rocky start and the dissolution of Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring began to click at the end of 1995, drawing the attention of Jade Tree Records. With modest expectations for their first album, 30° Everywhere, they ended up selling the entire initial pressing of 500 copies in a single show at New York’s CBGB’s. 1997’s follow-up Nothing Feels Good is often regarded as a critical album for the popularization of emo music, with accolades from Spin Magazine (and an 8.6 rating from a fledgling music review site called Pitchfork Media) and music videos getting air time on MTV. The album even inspired the title of a 2003 book on the evolution of emo by Spin writer Andy Greenwald, entitled Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo. Through von Bohlen’s own words in the A.V. Club article, the band took care to make 1999’s Very Emergency “tightly executed,” which along with the popularity they’d gained with Nothing Feels Good helped make Very Emergency a huge commercial success. In the years to follow, a lot changed – Davey went through treatment for a brain tumor, families were started, and the band left Jade Tree for newly formed ANTI-. These aspects contributed to the formation of a mature, mellow sound on the band’s final album Wood/Water. While it disappointed some fans of their previous sound, the album is now seen by many as criminally underrated.

Ten years have passed, but the band’s live show is as great as ever. As someone who was at the February Milwaukee reunion, I can say first-hand that Davey is extremely energetic and witty. The band is tight, as the ten extra years of experience from their respective post-TPR projects has made them seasoned veterans. The show is a party in every sense of the word, which makes it fitting that the show will follow fireworks.

That’s right, the show will start immediately following the Rhythm & Booms fireworks, which are scheduled to begin at 9:30. You’ll want to get to the Terrace early to grab a spot, which will certainly sound more appealing when you find out that we’ll also have  performers from Mazomanie Movement Arts Center walking around on stilts from 6:30 to 8:30.

Stilt-walkers, fireworks, and a reunion show of one of the most influential Wisconsin bands of all-time. What other form of entertainment could you ask for from a single night (all for free!)? Check out the videos for “Why Did We Ever Meet?” from Nothing Feels Good and “Emergency! Emergency!” from Very Emergency below. Don’t miss this one.

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