Smile Politely

The Smoking Popes end their tour on a tasty note

A band in a moment of their performance. The stage lighting is more pronounced, especially the beams of blue above. From left to right: a guitarist in motion, energetically strumming his guitar; a singer at the center, bent towards the microphone, belting out a song; the drummer, slightly obscured in the background; and another guitarist on the right, playing with focus.
Ty Noel

Last Saturday, March 23rd The Space held its first sold-out show of the year. Taking center stage for the evening were opening acts Maura Weaver, Rodeo Boys, and of course the headliner, The Smoking Popes. To honor a show that had people waiting outside, even way before the doors opened at 7 p.m., The Space offered up three specialty burgers for the bands, playing off singles from each of the artists. To say the burgers were a hit would be an understatement, as each band couldn’t help but mention the aroma of food that they had tried during sound check. 

The stage is washed in blue and green light, creating a vibrant backdrop. Five band members are immersed in their performance. From left to right: a bassist focused on his white bass guitar, a guitarist playing a sunburst electric guitar, a drummer seated behind a drum kit with "Smoking Popes" on the bass drum, a singer in the center with a microphone, and another guitarist to the right.
Ty Noel

The first act was Maura Weaver with her four-piece band. Weaver took the stage and immediately made sure the crowd was getting up close with her and the band. Lead singer Weaver had a relaxed air to her, joking and bantering with the crowd about how she loved the smell of beef and beef sweat that permeated through the venue as the kitchen continued to crank out food for a hungry audience. However, despite the jokes from this Cincinnati-based artist, the slow melodic punk style was a great way to kick off the show. The threat of being remembered for buying — or not buying — their debut album has led to the vinyl resting cozily in my collection and provided a memorable end to this opening act.

After a short intermission where the kitchen closed — but the bar stayed open — Rodeo Boys entered the venue and took to the stage. A four-piece set out of Lansing, Michigan, the band kicked things off with a quicker set and music that is described as “queer rock ‘n roll that combines southern twang and 90s grudge in a true lonesome and ornery fashion.” Throughout their set, the band had great banter, with the bassist and lead singer discussing whether to lose a coat to stay cool or keep it for the aesthetic. Although the lead singer first refused, a fast-paced song soon had her thinking otherwise. Between covering the Pixies, dancing across the set, and moshing together on stage, the Rodeo Boys soon had the crowd jumping and dancing along with them to close out their opening set. 

A band seems to be in full swing. The lighting has shifted to include purples and blues, casting dynamic shadows. From left to right: a guitarist passionately performing; another guitarist to his left; the drummer, focused on his playing in the back; the lead singer and guitarist, leaning into the microphone; and the bassist, slightly turned away from the camera.
Ty Noel

With the openers finished, a quick intermission took place that had a fun moment where Smoking Popes lead singer Josh Caterer cut the line to the bathroom and left one fan simply saying, “Well, you can’t get mad, that is the pope.” However, it didn’t take long for the group to get together and find their way to the stage. The Smoking Popes came out swinging with a fast tempo and kicking things off with “Simmer Down.” They wasted no time moving through the hits with “Rubella” and refusing to take many breaks between songs. However, as the crowd sang and danced along with them, they finally slowed down to shout out the openers that had been with them throughout their tour before launching into “Madison.” The band continued and played their new song “Golden Moment” and promised fans that a new album was on the horizon. 

Much to the delight of this writer, The Smoking Popes sounded close to how they sound in their studio records and were great at feeding off the audience and playing to the small venue. If they hadn’t made it known this was the last leg of their tour, it would have been hard to tell with the enthusiasm and energy they brought to their set. The band wasn’t shy to perform popular covers as well, with “Imagination” — Gene Wilder’s Wonka, not that punk Timmy (Timothy Chalamet) as lead singer Josh wanted the crowd to know — was played and the lead singer from Rodeo Boys came back out to help them cover “Don’t You Want Me.” As always with shows at The Space, both opening acts weren’t shy about getting into the crowd and dancing with the rest of the audience.

Band members with intense stage lighting, creating a silhouette effect. The left side is dominated by bright light beams. Each band member is actively performing. From left to right: a guitarist in silhouette; the drummer in the back with sticks mid-air; the lead singer and guitarist interacting with an audience member in the foreground; and another guitarist to the right, slightly obscured by the lead singer.
Ty Noel

Despite its small venue status, The Smoking Popes performed an encore to end the evening. They made a point to invite the guitarist from Rodeo Boys on stage with them where they did a three-piece guitar set to their song “Hairstyle.” The band continued with a few more hits before Josh found his way into the crowd for the closing song “I Know You Love Me,” and gave me the fun moment of getting to sing into the mic with him to close things out. After the show, the bands were all present at their merch booths to chat with fans. 

The Smoking Popes also mentioned during their set that they want their next tour to begin and end in Champaign. Whether it’s true or just fanfare, after the show they put on last Saturday I say they’re more than welcome to do just that. 

A band playing on a stage with blue dominant stage lighting. The band members are in similar positions but with different expressions and stances. From left to right: a guitarist rocking out, the bass drum bearing the band name visible; the lead singer and guitarist singing with eyes closed, conveying emotion; the drummer in the background; and another guitarist on the right, engaged in playing.
Ty Noel

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