Smoking Popes

Holy smokes
By WILL SPITZ  |  March 14, 2006

The recently reunited Smoking Popes absolutely, uh, smoked last Monday night downstairs at the Middle East at their first show in town in “like eight years,” according to frontman Josh Caterer. As one of the best and most underappreciated power-pop bands of the ’90s, Caterer, his brothers guitarist Eli and bassist Matt, and drummer Mike Felumlee deftly married big power chords and big hooks with Josh’s distinctive Kermit-the-Frog-meets-Morrissey croon. The band broke up at the end of 1998 but got back together last November for a show in their home town of Chicago that was filmed and released as a CD/DVD, At Metro (Victory), last month. They’re currently in the midst of a full-scale reunion tour, and at the Middle East they sounded as if they’d never stopped playing together.

Josh and Eli opened the set with a mesmerizing version of “Pure Imagination,” the Willy Wonka song that appeared on the Popes’ 1997 album Destination Failure (Capitol). Afterward, they were joined by brother Matt and drummer Ryan Chavez and switched into full rock mode, juxtaposing the band’s brawn and Josh’s graceful voice. Other highlights included a rousing version of “I Know You Love Me” and a new song (apparently destined for a new full-length) that sounded like vintage Popes — rhythmically and melodically catchy and anthemic without being histrionic. The night’s most poignant moment came when the audience sang along to “You Spoke to Me,” Josh’s ode to a band who changed his life: “I drove all the way from Carpentersville just to see you here tonight and it was worth it . . . I’m just glad I got to see you.”
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  Topics: Live Reviews , Willy Wonka, Smoking Popes
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