The Promise Ring at Turner Hall
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It would be tempting—not to mention frightfully easy—to file The Promise Ring’s sold-out reunion gig at Turner Hall under “N” for “Nostalgia.” Four mid-thirtysomething dudes playing their first show (save for a one-off gig in 2005) in nearly a decade? Check. Songs that defined a city back when Bill Clinton was still in the White House? Check. But while there were plenty of warm, back-in-the-day memories conjured up at Friday night’s show, there was also a refreshing sense of maturity that rarely finds its way to mere nostalgia acts. The Promise Ring 2012 may have been channeling its former self, but it never shirked its present self, either.
Opening with the anthemic leadoff track from 2002’s unfairly maligned Wood/Water, “Size Of Your Life” (Pitchfork dismissed the song as a “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth” clone, as if R.E.M. held a exclusive copyright on D and G chords), it was clear that the band’s heart-on-its-sleeve sound was perfectly intact. Davey Von Bohlen’s vocal cords—always a source of consternation for TPR fans and detractors alike—may have been a bit hoarse and ragged, though they gave the evening a welcome shot of heft and grit. As expected, older songs (“Is This Thing On?” “Make Me A Mixtape”) went over like gangbusters, while latter-day selections like “Become One Anything One Time” were met with more polite adoration. Still, tracks like Very Emergency’s unstoppable “Emergency! Emergency!” bridged the gap between old and relatively new, and sent the crowd into hysterics. For its part, the band kept pace, with Von Bohlen and company leaping and bounding across the stage. (Bassist Scott Schoenbeck even sported a T-shirt from Die Kreuzen, another legendary local band set for an unexpected reunion.)
But labeling Friday’s show as nothing more than a good-natured exercise in nostalgia would be misleading. Like Von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier’s other Milwaukee project, Maritime, the reunited Promise Ring has effortlessly remade itself into a band of dads. (Not to be confused with “dad bands,” mind you.) Prior to the show, the group’s collective tribe of children could be spotted cavorting around the balconies of Turner Hall. That family-friendly vibe eventually spilled over to the show; near the end of the nearly-two-hour set, Von Bohlen’s young son took to the stage, rocking out alongside his father. It was a light but surprisingly emotional (heh) moment, and nicely summed up the unlikely M.O. of #TPR2012: looking back on the unfettered noise of the past, but still embracing the domestic pleasures of the present and future.