Midway through The Promise Ring’s performance at the Avalon Theater Saturday night, I was questioning how the term “emo” ever came to describe this band. Sure, frontman Davey von Bohlen’s lyrics have always been introspective and on the heavy side, but watching the group play track after track from their back catalog with precision, intensity, and often at a breakneck speed, the “punk” label seemed much more fitting. That was until von Bohlen decided to lay some “real talk” on the audience, and I remembered what it was that made The Promise Ring an emo band. Their emotions.
The set had been everything I could hope for up until that point. While the venue was only half full, those in attendance all appeared to be true fans of the band, and the moment von Bohlen and his recently reunited bandmates Jason Gnewikow (guitar), Dan Didier (drums), and Scott
Beschta Schoenbeck (bass) ascended the stage, the crowd gathered close. The Promise Ring played straight through their first four songs — “Size Of Your Life” “Happiness Is All The Rage,” “Emergency, Emergency,” and “Jersey Shore” — before addressing the audience. The between-song banter that followed was casual and at times, very endearing, as von Bohlen lamented getting older (the show took place on his 37th birthday) and frequently referenced his family in Wisconsin (seems his days consist more of water parks and baseball practice than clubs and after parties anymore).
The band was tight, von Bohlen’s vocals as great as when I last saw The Promise Ring perform back at the turn of the century (insert lamentation about ME getting older here), and the set list near perfection. That’s why von Bohlen’s “real talk” confession that he never wanted to sing another song and wished he could just walk off the stage right then came as such a shock to those of us in the crowd…and seemingly von Bohlen’s bandmates as well. When someone in the audience shouted for von Bohlen to “do [his] job,” the artist chuckled and replied “I have a job, and this ain’t it.” Before moving on to the next song in the set, he also assured us that he wasn’t actually going to walk off as he had an obligation to play, as if that was all we needed to hear to not be upset.
How do you react to that as an audience member? Knowing that the person you’re singing along with and very literally looking up to would rather be anywhere else? I saw several people simply turn and walk out of the venue. Another shouted out the phrase “Public meltdown!” but nothing about von Bohlen’s actions felt like an outburst, more like an inner monologue that he just couldn’t — or didn’t care to — keep inner.
When his bandmate suggested nonverbally that maybe von Bohlen should put the brakes on the “real talk,” the artist made a “What do I have to lose?” type comment, and honestly, probably very little. When he talked about his family, it was with an obvious affection and sense of longing. This was likely the first birthday he’d had to spend apart from them in quite some time, and regardless of what happened during the tour, he would be going home to them at the end of it. For the sake of The Promise Ring’s fans, though, it’s probably for the best if he stays there. We have our memories of the band, and if I learned anything from Saturday’s show, it’s that some things — no matter now great — are better left in the past.
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