Smile Politely

Ageless Smoking Popes reel ‘em in at Courtyard

Cristy: My beloved Gen X bands never age like those old boomer rockers. Fifteen years after “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” the Stones were barely hanging on with the curmudgeonly perv-fest “Start Me Up.” By 1983’s Undercover, they were fossilized. I can’t even fathom the younger set thinking of bands like R.E.M., U2, or New Order this way — never mind the fact that they’ve been around for 30 years. But I’m getting smug in my old(er) age. When I saw the Smoking Popes at the Courtyard Café, it was 1995 all over again.

William: Agreed. While I missed the Popes the first time around, their performance Friday did not have the bloated, tired flavor of a Who reunion. If anything, I imagine the Popes played better than ever. They seemed like seasoned professional athletes in that their posture was relaxed, even serene, as they delivered the rock with sharp energy, appropriate virtuosity, and no energy wasted on angst or posture. Even the banter was relaxed, charming, gracious, articulate, and concise. They have already had their drama of climbing, making it, having spiritual epiphanies, and breaking up. Having gotten all that out of the way, they seem to be back together for the music and camaraderie.

C: The bulk of the Popes’ playlist consisted of songs from the band’s 2008 release, Stay Down. And with their newest album, they’re not trying to do anything differently. It’s the same sunny, emotional, catchy Midwestern rock they’ve been known for since 1993’s Get Fired. The band kicked off the show with Stay Down‘s “Welcome to Janesville,” a WPGU staple that gets stuck in your head for hours.

The Smoking Popes’ best-played material, in my opinion, came from Destination Failure. I’m probably biased because that’s the 1997 album that I constantly played on college radio. But hearing those sugary songs that I had lost track of was such a treat — and the band played them perfectly, from “I Know You Love Me” and “Paul” to “Pretty Pathetic,” a self-loathing, raw lament about a relationship gone badly, to which the audience seemed to know every word. If lighters were allowed, I’m sure the Courtyard would’ve been awash in tiny blue-orange flames.

W: No doubt. There was a warm chemistry I had not seen before with a Courtyard crowd. It was the first rock concert I’ve seen in a long time where afterward I felt refreshed and rejuvenated instead of pummeled and drained.

C: Toward the end of the show, when the band would play extended-form pop-jams, Josh Caterer would lapse into the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” and the Beatles’ “I Will.” He even went into the cheesy country ballad “How Do I Live Without You?” (Who did that? LeAnn Rimes? Faith Hill? Trisha Yearwood? Ed. note — Google says all three had a go at it.) And he and guitarist Eli Dixon Caterer played a dueling-guitar “Do You Feel Like We Do,” a tongue-in-cheek homage to Peter Frampton.

W: Josh sang beautifully, with a radiant and unpretentious demeanor. Somehow, he could sing bitter love songs in which the point seemed to be more the music than the message. The dirty laundry was flown like bright, colorful flags. The songs had solid, simple, sing-able melodies. Even without knowing the material, I succumbed easily to his invitation to the crowd to sing along. The music was that catchy. What a delight.

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