Growing up, I always wanted a different name—a name worth singing about, a name worthy of sitting at the top of the charts. Sarah, Christine, Alison... Hell, I'd even have taken Mandy. I just wanted to be the subject of a song.
Alas, no one ever sang about Megan. It was a long, hard childhood.
It wasn't until about 2002 when someone finally introduced me to Smoking Popes. How my friends, who knew full well my penchant for guitar-heavy and punk-influenced indie pop, failed to turn me on to them sooner is beyond me. Of course all I had to do was hear their "breakout single," "I Need You Around," and I was hooked. But the addiction became physical, rather than mental, when I heard their song "Megan." Finally! Someone sings a song about a girl named Megan! And it was a good song, too—double bonus. But by the time I had finally come to love the Popes, they had long given up their art. They disbanded in December 1998.
While the Popes were clearly influenced by melodic punk acts like the Buzzcocks and the Replacements, their loud drumming and fast guitar strumming were offset by Josh Caterer's relaxed and clean crooning—a vocal style most punk bands, even the most accessible, wouldn't dare to utilize. But it was a combination that worked. Even in their absence, Smoking Popes' romantic presence and sturdy songwriting continued to draw adoration from fans (new and old), and inspire many other musicians. Bands like Jimmy Eat World and Alkaline Trio wear the Popes' influence on their sleeves. Even Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz said, "If it weren't for Smoking Popes, Fall Out Boy wouldn't exist." (Don't hold that against them, though.)
Last year, as so many others were returning from the grave—Lifetime, Gorilla Biscuits, and Gang of Four all reunited in 2005—Smoking Popes started playing again too. In November, they ended a seven-year hiatus and played a benefit show in their hometown of Chicago. The performance was recorded and released by Victory Records as a CD/DVD.
Issued this past spring, Smoking Popes at Metro captures the band's flawless, triumphant return. The Popes burn through a 20-plus set of favorites, including "Gotta Know Right Now," "Pretty Pathetic," "I Need You Around" (swoon), and, of course, "Megan." The DVD version of the show also includes a few songs not on the CD, like "Mrs. You and Me," "Just Broke Up," and, as an encore, their perfect cover of the Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory song "Pure Imagination" (which is sonic antidepressant; I dare you to be in a crappy mood as it plays).
Shortly after their reunion, the Popes toured with Victory band Bayside, but this time around they're doing their own headlining. Smoking Popes play an all-ages show at the Crocodile on Monday, May 22. It starts at 8:00 p.m., costs $12, and promises to be wonderful.