Music News

Smoking Popes

A funny thing happened to Josh Caterer on the way to stardom: He found God. If you're a movie star or a country singer, that's no problem. (Hell, it may even be an asset.) But Caterer was a punk rocker, full of woe and anger, and a couple of years ago, he decided that giving his life to Jesus was not reconcilable with leading la vida punka. Thus ended the Smoking Popes. More's the pity. Over their decade-long career, the Chicago quartet had established a sound that was singular and beguiling, a combination of thrashing guitars, irresistible hooks, and Caterer's gorgeous crooning. The band's 1996 platter, Destination Failure, was a breathtaking amalgam of heartbreak and rage.

Live captures one of the Popes' final live shows, a blazing 22-song set that leaves no question as to the band's restless charms. The Popes weave from the bristling entendres of "Double Fisted Love" to the quirky barbs of "Brand New Hairstyle" to the sweet, keening pop of "Star Struck One." Guitarist Eli Caterer knows about six chords. But they're the right six chords, and he plays them with just the right mix of bravado and restraint. Bassist Matt Caterer and drummer Mike Felumlee keep the pace furious, while never drowning out the lead singer's soaring tenor. By the time Josh introduces the encore, a rousing version of the Popes' hit single, "I Know You Love Me," you'll be wondering how a band this good could go unnoticed for so long.

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Steve Almond
Contact: Steve Almond