In the early ’90s, there were few bands in the Chicago Punk scene with bigger audiences or more cred than Smoking Popes. Rising from a teenage novelty band called Speedstick, guitarist/vocalist Josh Caterer and his brothers Eli (on guitars and backing vocals) and Matt (on bass), along with original drummer Mike Felumlee, retooled themselves as Smoking Popes and began accruing a slavishly loyal fan base through non-stop gigging and sporadic vinyl releases.
An indie contract with Johann's Face led to their official debut, 1994’s Get Fired, and offers to open for Green Day and ELO, which afforded the band major exposure. Not long after came the Popes’ defining work, Born to Quit, hailed by Morrissey as “extraordinary,” as well as the band’s contract with Capitol Records, which loved the guys but had no earthly idea what to do with them.
But it wasn’t label malfeasance or non-prescription head candy that unraveled the Popes. Josh Caterer’s Christian conversion led him to the conclusion that the Popes’ musical message conflicted with his newfound faith, and he dissolved the band in 1998, the year after their masterpiece, Destination Failure.
The Popes’ legacy proved to be even bigger in their absence. A rarities compilation and a couple of live albums kept the band’s profile visible until Josh began making comments to his brothers about getting the Popes back together.
The Popes returned in November 2005 for the Flower15 Festival at Chicago’s Metro, a show that was filmed and released on CD and DVD, and in 2008 the Popes released Stay Down, their first album of new material in 11 years. This year saw the release of It’s Been a Long Day, a compilation of the Popes’ initial 7-inch singles and a handful of archival nuggets on the Asian Man label (which promises a remastered reissue of Get Fired and Born to Quit soon).
Since reuniting, the band has been through a Spinal Tappish procession of drummers (Neil Hennessey from The Lawrence Arms has been the beat-keeper since 2008). But make no mistake: The Popes are back in town, and they’re still smoking.
Opening acts Friday night are Oh No Boiling Acid!, The Tigerlilies and Koala Fires.
(Check out performance times and get show and Fountain Square details here.)