Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Toadies at the El Rey, 7/17/09

As a music fan, I came of age in the Nineties, so I was developing my tastes right in the middle of grunge, alternative, and the punk revival. The only station in my area that offered all those genres was KROQ in Los Angeles. Now, I'm sure many of you are booing, but think back on it--in the Nineties, KROQ was a tastemaker, and actually helped bring us so many of our favorites of our teenage years: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Weezer, Radiohead, The Offspring, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Oasis...I could go on, but you get the point. My friend Spencer and I would spend the night at each other's houses, listening to the radio and talking about what we liked, what was totally lame, and what we hadn't heard yet. I can still remember lying in bed, changing the lyrics to Foo Fighters' "I'll Stick Around" to something typically juvenile like 'I'll stick around/your butt is brown/better wipe it/better wipe it,' both of us cracking up at our bit of wordplay. Oscar Wilde, eat your heart out.

The point, if there is one, is that I love Nineties music because it was first for me, and you never get over your first love. With that in mind, I was extremely happy to see Toadies for the first time in thirteen years last Friday night. Now, I realize that most of you don't know who Toadies are, or if you do it's likely only due to your memory of "that one song," (a friend's reaction when I told him who I'd seen on Friday: "Wow, I don't think I ever would have thought about that band again if you didn't bring them up just now"), but I'm a card-carrying fan and have been ever since Rubberneck came out in 1994. It struck it rich on the strength of hit single "Possum Kingdom," the song that promised to treat you well, my sweet angel, especially if you wanted to see its dark secret behind the boathouse. That may sound like the plot to a late night cable film, but apparently that sort of thing was big in the mid-Nineties because that song was everywhere. Luckily for all of us who went out and snatched it up, the rest of the record was strong as well, and holds up surprisingly well fifteen years later. Driving drum beats, catchy (if dark) choruses, and lots of lead guitar added up to one of the great underrated albums of the decade. Sadly, the next one was rejected by their record label, they didn't put anything out for another seven years, and then they broke up, leaving us fans crying into our Toadies shirts.

But now they're back, and I got a chance to re-live my adolescent joy, and the band came through for me. They charged right out, ripping into "Mister Love," a song from Rubberneck, and the entirely partisan crowd went nuts; clearly everyone was hoping to take the same trip back I was. The next was a new track, from the No Deliverance album they released last year, and it was fine, but they knew to stick to what made us all fans in the first place and pulled heavily from their breakthrough and its very enjoyable follow-up, Hell Below/Stars Above. When they came to "I Come From the Water," a Rubberneck standout, they let the crowd sing the choruses, and we didn't let them down. There may not have been a ton of people at the show, but every person there was singing along joyously and as loud as they could. Then, in a sign of confidence in the audience, they played "Possum Kingdom" right in the middle of the set, knowing we'd come for more than just the hit.

By the time they got to the opening of "Tyler," they'd played the majority of Rubberneck and made us all very happy. As we all sang along to the rather creepy final part of "Tyler"--"I found a window in the kitchen/and I let myself in.../I can't believe I'm really here/and she's lyin' in that bed/I can almost feel her touch/and her anxious breath/I stop her in the hallway/outside her bedroom door/I hear her call out to me/I hear the fear in her voice/she pulls the covers tighter/I press against the door/I will be with her tonight"--I wondered what could have been with this band. They were never going to be a Radiohead or Pearl Jam or even one of the newer bands like TV on the Radio, but they were a very good rock band, derailed in their prime by label executives' opinions. Then I decided that if Todd Lewis had continued to write mainstream songs like these he probably would have been investigated by the FBI, so maybe it was for the best, and I should just be thankful that for one night I got to be 14 again.

Set List (with some new songs missing): Mister Love / So Long Lovey Eyes / Little Sin / I Come From the Water / No Deliverance / Sweetness / ? / Song I Hate / Possum Kingdom / Mexican Hairless / Push the Hand / ? / Quitter / Awake

Encore: Backslider / Hell in High Water / Heel / Tyler / I Burn

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