Sunday, June 22, 2008

Smoking Popes/Frisbie; June 22, 2008; High Noon Saloon

Smoking Popes are one of those names from the past, you know, the band that sang that one song that you used to see on M-TV late at night. One of those bands that you wonder where they’ve been for the last ten years, or maybe they’ve always been there, but the buzz is long gone. Seems to me they might have been the first band to which I heard the term “buzz band” applied, but like many the buzz never translated into commercial success and they faded back to wherever they came from. I saw Popes’ head man Josh Caterer at a Christmas show in Milwaukee awhile back, he’d found God but it was still a fairly rocking show, especially considering it was just him and his brother.

Well, the Smoking Popes are back and touring behind a new record. This was an 18 and over show, but it didn’t even seem necessary, most of the folks were fans from the band’s first go-round and now occupied that thirty-something age bracket. And were they ever fans, they packed the front of the stage singing along at the top of their lungs to every song. It was all catchy enough, and I was pretty sure I recognized that one song when they played it, but at the end of the show I didn’t feel the need to expand my Popes’ collection beyond their much-hyped, long ago debut.

Frisbie isn’t going to blow the world away with their pop songs, they may not even reach the same level the slightly above obscure Smoking Popes, but as long as they are around, I have no doubt they will continue to make me happy. I guess it is contagious because I don’t think I have ever seen a happier band. The handsome and charming co-lead singer/guitarists Steve Frisbie and Liam Davis are the only members remaining from their debut The Subversive Songs of Love so many years ago. The new band is terrific, and in fact my only complaint is that they don’t play any of those older songs, focusing instead on the new record.

The appropriately titled New Debut carries on where that record left off, with a new backing cast of characters. Chief among those is drummer Gerald Dowd. I’ve always been impressed with his drumming with Robbie Fulks, but he seldom gets to rock with Robbie like he does in Frisbie. Arms a windmilling blur of motion and a smile from ear to ear, he didn’t even seem surprised when a cymbal jumped off its stand. Rather than bearing witness to his power, it turns out that it was just missing a wing nut. In typical Gerald style, he had woke up this morning in LA, flew to Chicago, where he played a gig before hopping in a car to Madison, arriving just as Steve admitted to me that “if we can’t start soon, this may get uncomfortable.” Unflappable as ever, Gerald stepped behind the drums that were waiting for him and played.

So they aren’t going to change the world, big deal, making people (including themselves) happy is what it is all about.

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