Toad The Wet Sprocket | 07.28.09

live_toad_sm.jpgThe sound was crisp, and if I’d closed my eyes I would have had a hard time telling the difference between the 1994 recording and the band’s live performance of the song 15 years hence.

 

 

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The Pageant, St Louis

Seeing a show today put on by a band who was big in the alternative rock explosion of the early ’90s is like taking a short pause for the consideration of where the music industry today came from and the changes it’s undergone. As frontman Glen Philips reminded the audience at The Pageant, they’ve been doing this since 1986. They had studio releases beginning with 1989’s Bread and Circus, but their commercial breakthrough came with the 1991 full-length Fear, smack in the middle of the outpouring of alternative rock bands begotten earlier by the likes of R.E.M. and The Smithereens. One of the things that I repeated in my mind throughout the evening was that the crowd was more docile and polite than the rock concert audience I’m used to. (I was apologized to several times by fortysomethings bumping into me, even though it was primarily a standing-room-only performance.) I do enjoy the rough crowd sometimes—to be sure, there’s poetry in the aggressive tension of a younger audience—but if I’m being honest, I found the atmosphere at Toad the Wet Sprocket to be rather refreshing.

The opener, Willie Porter, regaled us with a near-virtuoso talent on his acoustic guitar and a very witty banter woven between well-written pieces that complimented Toad’s catalogue, both in style and content. At one point, he asked for audience suggestions for things they hated that he could sing about in his next song, which he then delivered.

Toad then followed on the stage and kicked off the set with "Something’s Always Wrong." The sound was crisp, and if I’d closed my eyes I would have had a hard time telling the difference between the 1994 recording and the band’s live performance of the song 15 years hence. It was more or less the same for most of the set list, which included tracks from each of their seven studio albums spanning one full decade. "Always Changing Probably" and "Know Me" from their debut were as well received as "Come Down" from the swan song 1997 album Coil, as well as "P.S." from the 1999 post-breakup retrospective of the same name. It’s not to say that Toad has resisted evolution in their music by continuously releasing a similar sound throughout their career, or by playing songs exactly the same way up to 20 years after they were recorded, but rather that they have retained and expanded on the talent that they had in 1986 when their humble beginnings were found in a Santa Barbara, Calif., high school.

It wasn’t all seriousness during the show, either. Phillips quipped at the audience regularly with lines like, "That guy screaming ‘play Hold Her Down’ is exactly why we don’t play that song," and their biggest commercial hit "All I Want" was sung primarily by the audience with Phillips’ proffered microphone, with him filling in the chorus. By the time the band performed "Walk on the Ocean" at the end of the three-song encore, they had proven their ability beyond any doubt to summon all of their original magic to this day. | Jason Neubauer

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