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The Promise Ring Reunite at Milwaukee's Turner Hall

Emo pioneers, together for the first time in seven years, play their hometown

The Promise Ring Reunite at Milwaukee's Turner Hall.
CJ Foeckler
February 25, 2012 11:07 AM ET

In the realm of Nineties indie-rock revivals, the reunion of Milwaukee emo institution the Promise Ring is neither as contentious as Pavement's nor as unlikely as Neutral Milk Hotel figurehead Jeff Mangum’s sudden return to touring. After all, half of the Promise Ring (guitarist and lead singer Davey von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier) currently play together in the fine guitar-pop band Maritime. Friday’s hometown show at Turner Hall – the Promise Ring’s first since a one-off gig in 2005, which came just three years after the group’s break-up – was a suitably spirited yet agreeably casual affair. This was fitting for an unassuming band that’s still better known for the generation of sensitive-guy bands it influenced (including Death Cab For Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, and Dashboard Confessional) than its own impressive discography.

Back in the late Nineties, The Promise Ring specialized in melodic, post-adolescent pop-punk that served up smart hooks and angsty lyrics. Now the band members are inching toward 40 and – judging by the spritely tots seen dancing in the wings – experiencing the joys of childrearing. Von Bohlen bounded around the stage with the abandon of a hard-rocking dad, even as he valiantly waged a losing battle with his battered vocal cords, which he admitted were "a little shot" and feeling tired after a "friends and family" dress rehearsal the night before.

For "Nothing Feels Good," the title track from the band’s career-best 1997 effort, von Bohlen’s haggard delivery actually served the poignantly yearning song well, recalling the aching resonance of the record. "As I get quieter I need you to get louder," von Bohlen said later, begging the audience to sing along as the band dipped deeper into its back catalog. Not that von Bohlen needed to beg – by the time the Promise Ring kicked into the anthemic "Is This Thing On?" the band’s oldest fans were dancing excitedly and kicking up the show’s energy several notches.

The Promise Ring’s zippiest, poppiest numbers predictably went over the best with this crowd. While the ballad "Become One Anything One Time" from the polarizing 2002 swan song Wood/Water remains a very pretty would-be prom-night classic, it was received as a cue to hit the bar until something more upbeat came along.

Clearly, even something of early ’00s vintage was too far out of the Nineties emo comfort zone on this night. (The audience even reacted enthusiastically to a Texas Is The Reason reference.) The Promise Ring made sure to generously pile on the chunky riffs and impassioned choruses, playing 24 songs for more than 100 minutes. "When we were kids we’d play for 30 minutes," von Bohlen admitted. "Tonight we’re going to play until you want us to leave." Performing a battery of classics like a well-rehearsed touring act ready to return to the road, the Promise Ring appear poised to play long and hard for its still-devoted fanbase in the months ahead.

The Promise Ring's setlist at Turner Hall:

"Size of Your Life"

"Happiness is All the Rage"

"Emergency Emergency"

"Jersey Shore"

"Red & Blue Jeans"

"Make Me a Mixtape"

"A Picture Postcard"

"Become One Anything One Time"

"Skips a Beat"

"The Deep South"

"Stop Playing Guitar"

"Nothing Feels Good"

"Is This Thing On?"

"Perfect Lines"

"B Is For Bethlehem"

"E. Texas Ave"

"Tell Everyone We're Dead"

"My Life Is At Home"

"Get On the Floor"

"Feed the Night"

"Why Did Ever We Meet"

"Red Paint"

"Everywhere in Denver"

"Forget Me"

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