News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Sounds: The Promise Ring
BY ANDREW LEAHEY
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Sometime during the mid-1990s, The Promise Ring drove their van into the parking lot of a small venue in Washington, D.C.
They’d heard good things about the city. Bands like Fugazi and Rites of Spring—two influential groups whose music stretched the boundaries of hardcore punk—had come from D.C., and you could feel their noisy spirit in the air. The Promise Ring’s own songs were cut from a similar cloth, which made the capital city a logical stop on the band’s first cross country tour.
The gig, however, was a flop.
“I can’t remember what the club was called,” drummer Dan Didier admitted last week, “but it didn’t really matter, because only three people showed up.”
The Promise Ring eventually found their audience, especially in D.C., where a new style of music—“emo”—began developing with bands that mimicked The Promise Ring’s style. Mixing hard-charging music with introspective lyrics and clever hooks, the band paved the way for an entire generation of wounded, tenderhearted punk rockers. Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World may have gotten all the glory, but The Promise Ring got there first.
Now, 15 years after their first D.C. appearance and nearly a decade after their breakup, The Promise Ring has decided to put the broken pieces back together. The guys kicked off their reunion tour earlier this year, and they’ll drive their van into another D.C. parking lot on Friday evening. This time, though, they’ll be parking outside of the 9:30 Club, where their highly anticipated show is nearly sold out.
“We aren’t trying to sell more records or get a great review or get the big spread in that glossy magazine that no one reads,” said Didier, visibly relieved at the difference between his band’s earliest performances and their recent reunion shows. “We are just dudes playing songs we wrote years ago and having fun doing it. It is a totally different mindset.”
It’s a totally different atmosphere, too. Most of the band members are approaching 40 years old, and several have children. Out in the audience, the crowd-surfing teenagers and punky college undergrads of yesteryear have matured into grown-ups with jobs and families. The only constant is the music, which sounds as youthful as ever.
To reward longtime fans, The Promise Ring is digging deep into its catalog, hoping to unearth some forgotten gems. Didier aims to persuade his bandmates to add his current favorite, “Between Pacific Coasts,” to the set list.
“Back when we used to play it a lot,” he said, “it was a bit of a coup d’état of a song. We would play these über-punk basements or clubs, and it would always freak people out when we did the hand claps during the song’s break. Like, ‘What is this hand clapping and singing about a sunrise and California?!’ It was definitely a song that transitioned into the more poppy stuff we would end up writing later.”
Although the reunion technically began in February, back when The Promise Ring played a hometown show at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall, this summer marks the first time in ten years that the guys have actually toured together, driving from town to town and playing shows on consecutive nights.
“We used to do shots of ginseng before going on,” Didier said, thinking back to the band’s earlier tours. “Weird, right? No idea why. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I still get nervous while preparing to tour. I still don’t want to mess up, and I still want everyone to have a good time. Those things never change.
“Ginseng shots, on the other hand, do change.”
Who: The Promise Ring with Title Tracks
Where: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW, Washington D.C.
When: Friday, July 20 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Andrew Leahey was emo when emo wasn’t cool.