Denton — and more specifically The Rockin’ Rodeo — was the place to be this night.
After a little break, The Toadies were getting ready to head out on their third (and presumably final) leg of the 20th Anniversary Rubberneck Tour. They were kicking it off in the college town, not too far from the UNT campus, and just like every time they’ve played the Rockin’ Rodeo (which is every other year), this show was sold-out.
The venue is located in a shopping centre, and even at nine-o’clock — an hour after doors opened — there were a few dozen people waiting in line, a line that stretched out into the parking lot. Granted, they were people who didn’t have tickets and were hoping some might become available later on.
The line for will call was considerably shorter, but still time consuming as far as waiting went. As owner Lloyd Banks pointed out shortly before The Toadies took the stage, Denton is still not wet, so they’re still stuck with outdated prohibition laws that make checking ID’s more of an ordeal than they should be. Hopefully that will change after the November election this year.
The Rockin’ Rodeo was already a happen’ place, and there was a short twenty minute or so wait before Ume took the stage.
“Hey, Denton! We’re Ume.” singer and guitarist Lauren Larson said in a cheery voice, greeting everyone once they took the stage. With that, Aaron Perez counted them into “The Conductor”, and they began wowing the onlookers, most of whom seemed unfamiliar with the Austin-based trio. Lauren’s talent as a guitarist came out quickly, and during the instrumental break the song has, she raised her axe above her head while continuing to play, an action that people raved over.
That classic was followed by one of many new songs from the Monuments album, and at times on “Too Big World”, they offered a glimpse of their shoegaze side. Lauren was getting more into the zone, kneeling during the instrumental break, shredding as she hunched over her guitar. Bassist Eric Larson and Aaron were having no trouble holding their own either, and exploded at the end, while Lauren whipped her head around, her hair swirling in the air. Two songs was all it took to completely win everyone over, and it was clear a lot of people had a new favorite band. They barely stopped for applause, though, and Eric wound them directly into one of my favorites from the Phantoms album, “Burst”. Each track was warming them up more and more; and as that one ended, Eric attacked his bass, relentlessly slapping it and executing complete control.
Applause again rang out in the venue, and Lauren looked up, waved at everyone and then flashed a smile before starting the closing track off their newest record: “Reason”. It was often gritty and brutal, with Lauren screaming out some of the occasionally gauzy lyrics. No sooner had it ended, then Aaron delivered a quick count on the drums, and they tore into “Embrace”. “…Embrace what’s been denied…” Lauren snarled on the chorus of that pulse-pounding track, before again showing her prowess as a guitarist at the tail end of it.
“Thank y’all so much!” she exclaimed afterwards, as they readied “Huricane II”. The buildup the song has is something else, and mixed in with the often haunting guitar chords, it has no trouble reeling you in. Lauren continued to slay on her axe, again dropping to her knees as the music consumed her; and a seemingly fitting track to follow that with was “Oh Fate”, which Aaron started with a steady, heavy drum roll, while his band mates prepared for it. The further the three progressed with it, the more intense they all got, leading to a brutal ending, which turned into a seamless segue into “Until The End”. Lauren made her way over to stage left towards the end, and she and Eric faced one another for a few moments as they rocked out on their respective instruments.
They showed no sign of stopping, and while I was expecting them to do an abbreviated set, they ended up doing their usual headline length show. They cranked out another tune, and the best part came at the end, when Lauren more or less collapsed in a lifeless heap, timing it perfectly to the songs end, and then sprang up suddenly when the applause arose.
“Chase It Down” came next, and as it reached its peak, Lauren pumped her fist in the air, intensifying the excitement the spectators were feeling. Upon finishing it, she gave The Toadies their well deserved “massive thanks” for bringing them back out on the road with them, before announcing they had just two more to go. The first was “Baby Xie-Xie”, which dates back to their 2005 album Urgent Sea. Lauren was kicking the air and banging her head to the drums during the brief instrumental pieces between the verses, showing off some pretty fancy moves. They then wound it flawlessly into their latest single, “Black Stone”, and that pure, raw rock song ended their 47-minute long set.
I had seen Ume just the month before in Dallas — where they headlined — and it was awesome seeing them do the same thing this night. I’m not even referring to the set (though it was almost identical), but more they got ample time to show who they are.
Who they are is one of the most astounding bands in the Lone Star State, and quite easily well beyond those borders. Their sound is pretty original, mixing shoegaze and alt/rock, and perhaps even some indie thrown in at times. And even though I had just seen them fairly recently, I actually found them even more captivating this night.
Their live show is where it’s really at. They dominate every stage they take, and you can see their passion for it come through as they’re performing.
They’ll be touring with The Toadies through August 2nd, with remaining shows being in New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Arkansas. Check out their TOUR PAGE for full details. Do check out their music in iTUNES, too.
The night had gotten off to a later start than originally intended, and with Ume playing the better part of an hour, there was clearly no way The Toadies were going to make the scheduled 10:30 start time. That was pretty much irrelevant, though; and before long, there was no empty space left, as people crammed into every crevice they could find, all hoping for the best view possible.
I was becoming more cautious, ‘cause the last two times they have played here, the crowd has been extremely rowdy. No one was really safe from the moshing, and venue staff have even had to stand in the crowd to ensure things don’t get too out of hand. Considering how riled up people were getting, chanting “TOADIES!” over and over, I was expecting more or less the same this time around.
I know this expression gets used a lot, and I’ve said it many times, too, but when Mark Reznicek, Doni Blair, Vaden Todd Lewis and Clark Vogeler took the stage, the fans reaction truly was deafening. I’ve seen my fair share of Toadies shows, and I think this was the strongest, noisiest fanfare I’ve heard them get from a crowd.
You would have thought people had been waiting their whole lives just for this one night… Well, at least twenty years.
The sounds of “Mexican Hairless” quelled the audience slightly, though they were no less vibrant, jumping around and screaming during that instrumental track that sadly, with the exception of this tour, is seldom heard. Fans got a moment to cheer them on after that number, before Clark knocked out the opening lines of “Mister Love”. You want to know just how much the crowd was enjoying this? Some started their own clap along during the track, and it spread like wildfire. Vaden appeared a little taken aback by it, as more and more hands shot into the air and kept up with Marks’ drumming. He [Vaden] was often seen extending his arms towards the crowd during that one, pointing at the fans and at times looking as if he were conducting an orchestra; and at one point, he just went with it, striking his palms together in time with everyone else.
In just two songs, one thing was already clear: this was a well rested Toadies. Their Dallas show back in May came in the latter part of the second leg of the tour, and while I would by no means say they were worn that night, they just didn’t have the extra sparkle they did this night, either. All of them seemed legitimately excited to see a crowd of this size and to be playing their songs for everyone.
They had to stop, even if it was just for a few seconds, to allow some applause, and then, as if they didn’t know it was coming, everyone screamed with delight when Vaden strummed his guitar and sang, “Bended knee; nine-years-old…”, the opening line of “Backslider”. That was when things really started going crazy. A majority of the people were jumping about, and getting your feet stepped on just came with the territory, while nearly everyone screamed along at the top of their lungs, “…And I prayed, ‘Sweet Jesus, don’t let me become a backslider!”
A brief intermission came so the band could tune, and then the night reached a fever pitch with “Possum Kingdom”. Of course, it’s these old Rubberneck songs fans always react to the best in the first place, given that it is such an iconic album, but this night, for whatever reason, fans were even more taken by them. It’s really a good thing the sound was turned up as loud as it was, otherwise it would have been almost impossible to hear the band over everyone’s voices. They bridged the song that made them famous perfectly into the subsequent track, and “Quitter” sparked a new fire inside everyone. The precision and ease that Mark was demonstrating in hammering away on his kit was nothing short of impressive, and that was visible many times throughout the night as well.
The Toadies were well into what is arguably the best stretch of the album, and “Away” proved that. It got everyone’s blood flowing, better prepping them for what was soon to come, and, of course, fans were all too eager to sing along at one point, when Vaden stepped away from the mic and motioned for everyone to pick up the slack. No sooner had it ended, and then “I Come From The Water” began. I’ve said in the past that the massive chanting/sing-along of the chorus is one concert experience everyone needs to have at least once, and this night reaffirmed that sentiment. It’s just so cool to be in a room of hundreds of people, and suddenly you’re all working as a collective, screaming at the top of your lungs, “I COME FROM THE WATER!” over and over. Some of the crowd got pretty feisty during it, too. I was surprised it had taken this long for something to happen. People were much more mellow this night, more just focusing on enjoying the music, though now (and somewhat appropriately), a mosh pit broke out, and that soon turned into a small fist fight before venue security showed up and put a stop to it.
Already, they were more than halfway done with Rubberneck, and a break followed for a guitar change. That was apparently too much downtime for some fans, who instantly began chanting, “TOADIES!” repeatedly, like they were still waiting for them to come out and start. Yeah, this gathering of fans was a die-hard bunch.
The gorgeous sounds of “Tyler” then filled the room, and I doubt I was the only person who felt a blissful state set in. It’s such a beautiful song (despite the actual story told by the lyrics), and making it all the better was the extra emotion Vaden packed into the words. It was prevalent at the start, but man, at the end, he was a cut above his usual self. “…I can’t believe I’m really here and she’s lying in that bed. I can almost feel her touch and her anxious breath…” he roared, excitement seeping out of his voice. That was the best I’ve heard “Tyler” sound in awhile, if not ever. Let’s not forget the instrumental bridge, where the rhythm section of Doni and Mark was truly dynamic, and fans again decided that was the perfect moment to begin a clap along.
They make a point of not really talking to the crowd while performing Rubberneck in its entirety, but Clark couldn’t keep it in anymore. “…We haven’t seen you in a long time…” he said, referring to Denton in general, and went as far as to say everyone had been “amazing”. That was probably another reason they were extra exceptional, because aside from being fresh on the road, they also had a ton of energy to feed off of.
“Happyface” was next, and a cool moment came when Vaden muttered the, “Here we go again.” part, casting his hand in the air and flicking his wrist as he sang it. Mark then led the charge into “Velvet”, and they raced through that hate filed song, which again had Vaden getting more emotionally invested in it than normal, and he was seething at times. One last guitar change was in order, and soon Vaden was holding a twelve-string acoustic, making “I Burn” sound as authentic as it possibly can. He was using his hands a lot this night, and did once again when they hit the line, “Sift the ashes for reminders; stony things remain…”, which was when he also switched over to his bullet mic for a bit.
He flicked his pick out to the audience, and dozens of hands went up hoping to catch it, before he handed his acoustic off to one of their stagehands.
“That concludes the record portion of the set…” he said, beginning some chitchat with the audience. It had taken 38-minutes to play everything from Rubberneck, and they still had some left to go.
He mentioned he doesn’t like to talk during that part of the show much, because, “There’s no talking on the record.”, and also stated how good it was to be back in Denton. I think the feeling was mutual.
“…Thank you so goddamned much for sticking with us…” Vaden finished. More than twenty-years as a band is a long time, even if you weren’t together for seven of those. Still, no one ever forgot The Toadies during their breakup, and they even picked up some new fans along the way.
With that little speech made, they ripped into one of many fan favorites from their albums that are less than twenty-years-old.
“Push the Hand” got some movement going, and the crowd roared when they started it. It’s one of their rawest numbers in my opinion, especially in the live environment. The Hell Below/Stars Above album received more attention than anything else (sans Rubberneck), though they only did three tracks from it. In fact, the delightful and devilish “Little Sin” came directly after, and the way they stretch out the silence on each chorus (before singing the songs title) is always a nice little touch.
“How we feeling? You guys good?” Vaden asked afterwards, checking in on everybody. The title track of their third LP was the only one from it, and while everyone wasn’t as into everything else as they had been the Rubberneck stuff, “No Deliverance” was one that was well loved. People were singing along; and during the tracks lull, while crooning, “…She said, ‘You have forsaken all you believe. Crossed earth and oceans to be with me…”, Vaden began another clap along.
Upon finishing it, he mentioned something about a cover song they were wanting to do, but was vague on details. The heart was mentioned, as was a disco ball, and it being “all about touching your heart”, but that was about it. “You’ll all know what’s supposed to happen.” Vaden said, sounding confident people would get it. As I suspected, it was Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, a song they’ve reworked entirely, making it into a rock number. Vaden even took his glasses off for it (something that rarely happens from my Toadies show experiences). They’ve made it into a truly solid rock song, and one that’s pretty heartfelt, too.
“Yeah, Blondie.” Vaden remarked as the audience showed their appreciation. “Thank you for coming to the rock show.” he added, asking how many folks here had seen them before. Most had, but surprisingly, a good number of hands shot up when he asked about any “first timers”. I guess everybody has to start somewhere.
Sadly, their set had already come to an end, and Vaden mentioned this final song was a good one to shake your ass to, at least if you had brought it. “Sometimes, I wish I had the heart of a snake. With no compassion comes no mistakes…” he belted at the start of oh, so lively “Rattler’s Revival”, which concluded their 58-minute long set, and also, was the sole song from 2012’s Play.Rock.Music. album.
Their set had gone by way too quick, and did seem on the short side, but there was no doubt that they would be back. Sure enough, a couple minutes passed (minutes filled with people screaming the band’s name), and they returned.
Vaden mentioned they had reissued Rubberneck this year (re-mixed and re-mastered), talking about how this was one song he liked and they recorded back in ’94, and they put it on as a bonus track on this re-release. It was “Stop It” by Pylon, and it had a fun vibe to it. Vaden was wagging his finger back and forth on the chorus, and even pointing out at the crowd at times, as well as starting one last clap along for the night.
I must say, I was glad to hear “Sweetness” made the cut, not just because it’s a favorite of mine, but because that primal song is absolutely superb. “…Keep going out to live rock shows…” Vaden encouraged, while Mark continued pounding out the beats, clearly setting up “Hell In High Water”. That speech seemed to ensure this was the closing number, but they make it one of the best of their shows. Doni and Vaden stood next to one another during the lengthy instrumental part, talking to one another momentarily, and just rocking out and having a good time, even smiling. Clark knocked out a few loud notes on his guitar, seeming like he was going to stop at three, before Vaden convinced him to do one more, and the crowd made some noise for that. “I am hell in high water, and I never sleep. So watch your daughters, and stay out of the deep…” Vaden then sang, as they got back on track and ended their 12-minute long encore.
Vaden had a huge smile on his face. He was loving this, and appeared game for more. However, Clark had already sat his guitar down, and Mark was out from behind the drum kit. Doni stood at the ready, waiting to see what his band mates would do. Everyone was hoping they might do another one or two, and they were vocal about it, but the band decided to call it, graciously thanking everyone as they exited the building.
I still feel this was on the short side for a Toadies show, though I don’t consider that a strike against them. After all, how many times to get to hear all eleven tracks from Rubberneck played front to back? In my experience, twice, and I doubt it will happen again. Or if it does, it won’t be anytime soon.
There’s just something about The Toadies. Part of it probably has to do with their staying power, something many bands struggle with. Part of it is probably the fact they are still churning out great music all these years later, and I would dare say their latest release is every bit as phenomenal as Rubberneck is. You can’t dismiss how they still have a stage show as intense as bands half their age, coupled with the experience that comes with being a group of veteran rockers, giving them the best of both worlds.
So, regardless of if it’s a 70-minute set or one that pushes or exceeds 90, no one’s going to leave disappointed. I know I didn’t, nor did anyone else when they walked out the doors this night.
This leg of the Rubberneck tour will come to an end on August 17th, stopping in New Mexico; Colorado; Missouri; Nebraska; North Carolina; South Carolina; Louisiana; and Mississippi. Let’s not forget the 7th annual Dia De Los Toadies music festival taking place at Panther Island Pavilion in Fort Worth on September 12th and 13th. Full info can be found HERE. Get their albums in iTUNES, with the exception of the re-mastered Rubberneck, which can be found at Kirtland Records online store.