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The Promise Ring proves that nice guys can actuallly finish first.h

By M. Richard Hughes

OCTOBER 26, 1998:  Everybody knows that nice guys finish last, right? If you are one, then you have first-hand knowledge of this. If you aren't, then you probably just got through walking all over one on your way to the top. (This goes double, by the way, for you music industry types out there).

Looking on the bright side, as a nice guy is apt to do, after getting his heart stomped on or getting passed over for the really good job, he gets to mope along home, pick up a guitar, and write a song about it. Nothing sparks the ol' creative urge like misery (just ask seminal singer Morrisey) and when the sentiment isn't awful it is often great (like Morrisey).

Perhaps whoever first gave us this adage didn't stick around long enough to see the final results. A modern, rock 'n' roll twist on the tortoise and the hare story might conclude a little something like this: After the hare crosses the finish line first, he proceeds to go out wasting all his money and generally treating everyone like dirt (he is a star now, after all). Soon enough, the hare fades into obscurity broke, all bridges burned, and wondering where the glory days went. Our tortoise, on the other hand, takes the time to establish some loyal friends and a nice little career in the process, winning out in the long run. With a name like The Promise Ring, how could this band be anything but nice guys? Operating from a home base in Milwaukee, The Promise Ring is starting to see the benefits of an exhausting touring schedule that kept the band on the road for a little over seven months out of the past year, including a five-week jaunt over to Europe. "We had really responsive audiences," said guitarist Jason Gnewikow before a recent show in Seattle. "It was a whole different ball game over there. Hospitality is 10 times what it is here. I guess it boils down to some sort of cultural thing."

While here in the States, many bands get themselves a single and then a bus, The Promise Ring has been slugging out town-to-town in a van supporting a slew of independent releases, winning over the populace two and three at a time. This methodology has gotten the name out to the point of actually making touring worthwhile for the band -a rarity for those not involved in the Edgefest-type touring package.

This time around (its sixth), The Promise Ring comes to Texas supporting its latest release Boys + Girls, a two-song, 7-inch single and a three-song cd single. The music grows on the uninitiated in gradual steps, as one picks up on where the band is coming from after repeated listenings.

Their influences are from everywhere, the members taking quality bits and pieces from every genre. The Pet Shop Boys are a favorite, and singer/guitarist Davey Von Bohlen has expressed admiration for Slayer's Reign in Blood as well as Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.

The single includes the songs, "Tell Everyone We're Dead," "Best Looking Boys" and with "American Girl" included on the cd version. It is the latter that is the standout, floating wispily like a drowsy driver's wandering daydream on an endless stretch of Midwest highway - a familiar scenario. The straining vocals lend the song a color of melancholy tinged with longing hope, caught in the momentum of an encroaching past and the pull of a more hopeful future. Then again, that is just one interpretation of many possible readings. Von Bohlen has the savvy to make the lyrics vague and open to be all things to all people. By not having a blatnatly obvious reference to latch on to, fans are better able to claim the music as distinctly their own.

Through this cultivation - a strategy radio programmers will never understand - The Promise Ring's admirers have become faithful and long-term. The headway gained on this road has resulted in out-the-arse indie cred and the strongest of foundations that any up and comer could hope for. And as lengthy as the road may be, The Promise Ring will still be traveling on it long after Creed and Matchbox 20 have become yesterday's has-beens.

How's that for a happy ending?

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