I’m not particularly familiar with the Austin area, so after I’d driven twenty miles in the wrong direction, completely missed the entire city, and backtracked to get to the MoHawk, an outdoor club in the heart of Austin’s downtown famous for its live music – I was more than ready to enjoy some quality listening.

It was a warm midsummer’s eve, the thick air held an ambiance of anxious hearts as the crowd…

Alright, enough of that. It was freaking hot out, and the Popes were freaking awesome. I arrived as indie-pop band Masonic was finishing up the last of their set. Koufax was up next, and they warmed up the crowd with their pop/dance flare, thanking the audience once we finally started getting into it, feeling the music. Robert Suchan introduced a few new songs off of their upcoming album, scheduled to be released September 23.

Common inquiries littered the conversations in between sets as Koufax ended and we inched our way closer to the stage in anticipation. Everybody’s saying they used to listen to the Popes back in the day, and “where have they been?” and “I wonder if they’ve still got it?”

I met a couple that had heard rumors of guitar/lead vocalist Josh Caterer “becoming one of those Jesus people” and “well I hope they play their old stuff, then” and “Oh? Really? Wow, I hope they don’t suck.”

Jesus person? Yes. Sucking music? Absolutely not. This crowd was full of die hards and it showed as Josh opened up the set with “Let’s Hear it For Love” and everyone finally fell into that groove we’d been searching for all night. We became a single unit, swaying and singing and shouting “Let’s hear it for promises! Something that’s sealed with a kiss!” in unified anthem. Songs such as “Midnight Moon”, “Need You Around”, “Share the Blanket”, and “Pasted” adorned the set, reminding those heart-broken when the band broke up several years back of the music they’d fallen in love with.

The Popes did well to weave the new material that they’re demo-ing on tour throughout the set. And after nearly ten years since their last release, they sound better than ever. Their new single off of Stay Down, “If You Don’t Care”, is already a crowd favorite, and “The Corner”, based upon a novel about a repentant killer, moved a few people to tears.

“Brand New Hair Style” finished out the set, and Josh gave insight to his secret wishes for one of the fan’s haircuts “that he always wanted but could never grow.”

“Pretty Pathetic” and “Need You Around” played out perfectly for the encores, and as people jumped up on stage and the crowd sang more (and louder) than Caterer, it is obvious that the absence of the Smoking Popes for such a long amount of time has not deterred from the love of their fans in the least.

Worth the drive? Absolutely.