Not so long ago, Milwaukee band the Promise Ring was seen as one of the most likely groups to bring “emo-core,” that post-punk style that joins emotional lyrics with hard-core musical leanings, to the masses.
Superb songwriting featuring singer Davey vonBohlen’s affecting expressions of inner turmoil and the band’s striking loud-soft mixture seemed an easy fit with the direction of alternative rock radio just a couple years ago.
However the Promise Ring has, by now, jettisoned nearly all of its anxious edge, both musically and lyrically, and has turned into a mellow pop band with folk influences and synthesized strings now part of the equation. The group’s third studio album, the understated “Wood/Water” (Anti/Epitaph), is all emo and no core.
At the well undersold Knitting Factory on Wednesday, the first of two non-consecutive dates at the Hollywood club, the sparse crowd seemed none too impressed, as well, with what has become of what was once a very exciting live act.
The new songs played, from the Cure-esque “Suffer Never” to the Beatles-inspired “Get on the Floor,” were all very pretty, as there is no doubting vonBohlen’s ability to write beautiful songs, but the band’s current sound and approach borders on the boring compared to the energetic performances the band is still remembered for.
“Become One Anything One Time” was the best of the band’s new songs. Guitarist Jason Gnewikow’s lilting guitar lines wrapped around vonBohlen’s plaintive words for a gripping effect, ending with an unexpected, Sonic Youth-like finale. The sad sack “Bread and Coffee,” on the other hand, approached Ben Folds mellowness and drew few cheers.
The unimpressed crowd, seemingly comprising mostly longtime fans, was only really interested in older Promise Ring songs, and thankfully there were enough of those offered to keep the room half-full throughout their hour-long perf, including “Best Looking Boys,” from TPR’s excellent 1998 EP “Girls & Boys” and the emo classics “Scenes From a Parisian Life” and “A Picture Postcard,” from their 1996 debut EP “Falsetto Keeps Time.”