Smoking Popes: Live

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By Bill Holmes

"Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." You're right, Joni. The Smoking Popes are no more, but this live recording proves that they packed a hell of a wallop when they were. Familiar to most for the radio hit "Need You Around" and Josh Caterer's Morrissey-like lead vocals, the Chicago quartet lit stages on fire for a decade. This set, from their final performance at the Metro, truly captures their power and energy as they rip through song after song with nary a breather.

Crooning like The Moz is one thing, but contrasting a raging punk-pop beat against it made the Popes truly unique. With brothers Matt and Eli (bass and guitar, respectively) and drummer Mike Fellumlee backing his voice and guitar, songs like “No More Smiles,” “Writing A Letter” and “Under The Blanket” kick ass, while the slower tempo songs (“Stars”) are just as powerful in their restraint. Short instrumentals “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Surf” are lethal, the latter segueing into a “You Really Got Me” riff before launching into “Before I’m Gone.” Josh’s lyrics bear listening to as well; he’s sometimes wordy but is painfully honest and open. “Pretty Pathetic” is amazing.

The band broke up after Josh, the main songwriter, felt his religious calling was incompatible with being in a band (especially one with a name like Smoking Popes, I imagine). The intro to the last track on Live (“I Know You Love Me”) not only makes his vision abundantly clear but adds another dimension to a song you may have been touched by in a completely different way.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/smokingpopes-live/