Whoever booked The Promise Ring to play the 10PM show at the Harley stage on Thursday night should probably be fired.
Going up against established mega rock stars Foo Fighters or the piano-pop stylings of Ben Folds Five was never going to work out anyway for Milwaukee’s own The Promise Ring -- they were never really that big nationally. But the turnout of 200 or so (and that’s being a bit generous) was pitiful for a band that was kind of a big deal locally back in the 90’s.
Rocking an 80’s-era Brewers cap, lead singer Davey von Bohlen was unfazed.
The band started off with “Size of Your Life” from their last album, which I totally didn’t recognize until writing this. But then they kicked into the one-two punch of “Happiness Is All The Rage” and “Emergency! Emergency!” from their poppiest (and my personal favorite) album Very Emergency. The former features one of my favorite lines in all of indie rock -- “We could do more outdoor things if we weren’t so busy getting busy.” -- and the latter’s chorus of “It’s an SOS! Very Emergency!” is featured at Brewers games when there’s a pitching change.
(Side note: “Happiness Is All The Rage” is the first TPR song I’d ever heard, and on some level is responsible for getting me into indie music. I like to think that the song could get other people into indie rock as well. Of course, if you don’t like it, your name is probably Ken and you suck so whatever.)
After that, it felt as if they were playing just for me (not just because of the low turnout, assholes) because the hits just kept coming and coming: “Make Me a Mixtape,” “Skips a Beat (Over You),” “Tell Everyone We’re Dead,” and “Stop Playing Guitar” (“With so few people there, he SHOULD stop playing guitar!” said the Statler and Waldorf ripoff. Har Har.) just to name a few. In an alternate (and probably hipster) universe, a crowd of thousands would have been shaking their asses to the anthemic and bouncy rhythms.
At one point midway through the 75 minute set, von Bohlen cracked “I’m glad they have these Jumbotrons on for all those people stuck in the back.”
Overall the band sounded pretty tight, as if they hadn’t missed a beat since they broke up in 2002. They maintained a good energy throughout, even with the slower, lusher tracks from their swan song Wood/Water. Davey’s voice didn’t sound bad at all, despite reports of that nature from their show at Turner Hall earlier this year. More importantly, the band seemed to be having a good time on stage. They could have mailed it in, but didn’t.
After some deliberation on stage -- “We already played the fuckin’ encore, so we’re trying to figure out what to play next!” -- the band decided to send the small crowd off with the Milwaukee-street-referencing title of their first single, “Watertown Plank.” It was a good way to end an enjoyable set of music -- a rare nugget for those that stuck it out against the allure of much bigger (and, yeah, on some levels better) bands.