After releasing a string of albums in the '90s, the Smoking Popes split, leaving behind a smoldering heap of punk rock classics. Much to the excitement of fans, the Popes reunited in 2005 and have been at it since, releasing a couple albums including this year's "This Is Just a Test." On Wednesday night the band brought its veteran, punk-rocking show to the Firebird.
Openers Black For a Second brought on the hyper-punk, not unlike that of the Descendents (or the Smoking Popes) and got the evening off to a rambunctious start. Vocalist and guitarist Joey Jordan has some mean robotic dance moves and an especially raspy holler. St. Louis' favorite duo, the Livers, brought the house down with their speedy punk rock comedy show. Highly entertaining (maybe even intriguing) the Livers multi-media show provides for a new approach to what can be considered a band.
At about 10:30 p.m. the Smoking Popes took the stage, three brothers (shaved heads must run in the family) and a veteran drummer, the Popes sounded as if they had not missed a beat since their first album, 1993's "Get Fired." The band kicked off with a couple of tracks from their mid-'90s releases ("Grab Your Heart and Run" and "Rubella") and introduced some tracks off their latest album ("Wish We Were," "How Dangerous" and "Punk Band"). The Popes filled our little hearts with joy as leadman Josh Caterer crooned (we'll get to that!), "We're not going out, I just wish we were."
Much has been said about the Smoking Popes' sound and the way Josh Caterer's vocals echo Frank Sinatra and Morrissey, but I have found the defining description. The Smoking Popes sound like the Misfits (circa 1982) fronted by a happier, less depressing Morrissey. There it is. My work here is done. But aside from drawing comparisons, the band does do something the Smiths could never do. They rock. We've come to expect a little less when a reunited band comes through town, but the Popes sound so damn good. They're energetic, passionate and they even do the punky jump thing.
The Smoking Popes played for a good hour and covered plenty of their classics like "Let's Hear It For Love," "Need You Around," (this song in particular is the best display of the aforementioned Morrissey-Misfits theory) and of course "Gotta Know Right Now." Josh Caterer even let the Popes take a fiver while he performed an intimate acoustic set complete with audience harmonizing. As painful as these sing-a-long moments sometimes seem, this was in particular one that would put a big, fat smile on your face (whether you knew the words or not). And when the Smoking Popes were literally welcomed back on the stage, it was pretty hard not to smile and adore the band.
The Smoking Popes haven't been spoiled with fame and overexposure. The brothers Caterer seem like the kind of guys that you could just yak about music with and not feel intimidated or silly. This was reconfirmed after the show when they were just hanging out, chatting with fans and laughing. I really wanted to be "that guy" and ask about touring with Green Day or ask what his favorite Sinatra song is, or his thoughts on Morrissey. But I'll save that for next time, because I will most definitely be there next time.