For the first time since the release of last year’s Into The Agony, the Smoking Popes made their way to Boston – well, Somerville really – last Monday night, setting up shop at the unique, 300-capacity former function hall that is Once Ballroom for the evening. With support from the run of shows coming from The Ataris and with locals Donaher getting the early-arriving crowd engaged, it was an evening that evoked all the best of the power-pop glory days of an earlier decade.
Hailing from the great State of New Hampshire – yours truly’s birthplace – Donaher are a four piece band that sadly I’d not seen before. They might be on the newer side – the band’s debut album, I Swear My Love Is True, was released in late 2017 on Dodgeball Records – but their sound is classic: catchy, melodic power-pop songs of love and heartbreak. It’s like if This Year’s Model-era Elvis Costello and Road To Ruin-era Ramones had a kid, and that kid grew up on a steady diet of the Lemonheads and Mr. T Experience. Is that specific enough a reference? We think so; check out their sound for yourself right here.
The Ataris, who’re essentially the Kris Roe Travelling All-Stars at this point, were up next, assuming the primary support role on the duration of this run. The benefit of that approach is that Roe can assemble a dynamite backing lineup, which at this time consists of Mike Doherty on guitar, Montreal music scene vet Danny LaFlamme on bass and Dustin Phillips on drums. The band powered through all the hits, with Roe taking on a few tracks solo in the process. His guitar playing has often gone underrated, and trends toward being more ethereal and experimental than his pop-punk pedigree would imply, although his near-constant switching on and off of various loops and pedals was a tad mind-numbing at times. The crowd, while not quite at capacity, was still noticeably vocal and engaged throughout The Ataris’ set (prompting Popes’ frontman Josh Caterer to remark with a smile during his own band’s set that “I know you’re all here to see The Ataris, but thanks for sticking around”). Also, they played under a static red LED light, which is waaaaay over the head of yours truly’s photo taking and editing skills, thus the relative few shots in the gallery below.
Still touring in support of their seventh studio album, last year’s phenomenal Into The Agony, Chicago’s Smoking Popes plowed through a seventy-five-ish minute headline set that spanned the course of their two decade career. Into The Agony, as most of you should know, marked the return of drummer Mike Felumlee to the fold for the first time since 1997’s Destination Failure, and his presence behind the kit has been a noteworthy shot in the arm. The Popes’ lineup was a little altered on this run – Felumlee’s The Bigger Empty bandmate Reuben Baird is filling in for Mike Caterer on bass – but seeing and hearing Felumlee manning the kit behind the remaining brothers Caterer just seems right. I’ve seen the Popes a handful of times over the last couple of years, and this might have been the tightest, most energetic set yet. Whether it was on newer favorites like “Summer Down” or “Amanda My Love,” or classic staples like “Rubella” and “I Know You Love Me,” the band sound as fresh and vital as ever. Josh Caterer’s dulcet crooning has probably been the most well-known individual instrument over the course of the Popes’ career, but make no mistake about it: Josh and Eli Caterer are dual guitar heavyweights. As a wannabe guitar dork, it fills me with great joy to watch the two trade licks on the former’s gorgeous Fender Coronado and the latter’s even more gorgeous Strack Woodworking Jazzmaster clone.
Head below to see the full photo gallery from this night.