Rock band reunions aren’t easy. Aside from getting everyone in the same place and in proper playing shape, you’re going to grapple with the fans calling “sellout” — and on the other end, those who think a reunion show means a reunion tour and a reunion album. And what if no one likes that reunion album? Kids these days. No, we’re not talking about Guns N’ Roses or even LCD Soundsystem; we’re talking about emo forefathers the Promise Ring who will play live for the first time in three years tonight (Dec. 31) in Chicago.
It’s New Year’s Eve, but the real occasion (at least for the thousand or so fans who will pack the Metro) is the re-release of the Promise Ring’s 1997 LP Nothing Feels Good, a cult favorite amongst a sea of ‘90s cult favorites. The Milwaukee band’s sophomore album has aged remarkably well, and earlier this year it was re-mastered and re-released on vinyl and cassette by Jade Tree Records. Tonight, they’ll play it in its entirety.
This is the Promise Ring’s first show since a 2012 tour. After breaking up in 2002, the Metro was the sight of their first reunion show, in Nov. 2005.
“Chicago, at first, was more of our ‘hometown’ town before Milwaukee ever was,” drummer Dan Didier tells Billboard, thinking back to the Wisconsin band’s formative days. “Fireside Bowl was always the place to play either at the start of the tour or the end. It was always a great time and we played with a ton of amazing bands there.”
Rehearsing for tonight’s show was a mix of the familiar and left-in-the-‘90s memories. Didier has played with frontman Davey von Bohlen in the indie rock band Maritime since the Promise Ring split in 2002. Their chemistry is second nature, but even for guitarist Jason Gnewikow and bassist Scott Schoenbeck, getting back in the groove wasn’t a big deal. Davey thinks chemistry is a concept that’s more constant through the years than it seems: “Doing the exact thing we used to do, falling back into that relationship, it’s really easy.”
Most of the Nothing Feels Good songs were easy to rehearse. “‘Make Me a Chevy’ was a little tricky because the drum pattern was this weird thing that I thought was cool once, but going back 18 years later I definitely had a ‘what was I thinking’ vibe,” Didier says. “‘A Broken Tenor’ we used to play a lot and for whatever reason, stopped playing it.” Then there’s the somber interlude “How Nothing Feels” that the band almost never played live.
Into It. Over it., one of the most visible acts in the so-called “emo revival,” will open the show. Even Weiss’ band is from Chicago and has opened for reunited ‘90s emo bands before (like Mineral in 2014), so they’re a top shelf choice for the slot. But they’re not exactly a Promise Ring clone. In fact, they don’t sound much like Nothing Feels Good at all. Into It. Over It is often delicate and contemplative, compared to the Promise Ring’s crunchy hooks. You can raise your hands and shout along to a Promise Ring song on instinct; for Into It. Over It, the connection takes a little more time and introspection. As well liked as the Promise Ring are, there aren’t a lot of emo bands today that sound like them.
That sounds like a great lead-in to a new Promise Ring album… but don’t count on it anytime soon.
“They would need to kick me out, to start,” von Bohlen says. “But then I guess they might just start a new band. I don’t know. I don’t like to say impossible, but it’s as impossible as I can guess.”
Didier chimes in: “Maybe more shows, but definitely not new music.”
So, present-day emo bands (or present-day emo bands who will only fess up to being “indie rock”): Write better choruses. We need you.