Concert Review

Toadies Fans, In Arizona, In 2009: Who Knew?

"Huh? The Toadies are back together?" was pretty much my reaction last week, when I heard a radio ad for Wednesday's show at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale. Clearly, I'd been out of the loop, since Todd Lewis had reconstituted his Dallas-Fort Worth band -- known nationally for 1994's Rubberneck and its murderous hit single, "Possum Kingdom" -- in 2006, minus bassist Lisa Umbarger. Umbarger's departure from the band in 2001 led to a break-up I assumed was final.

For me, that was a shame. I spent my last two years of high school in the DFW area, and Rubberneck was one of the albums that defined my time there, even though it had been released four years before I came to town. My brother, some friends and I went to a local radio station's music festival and watched the Toadies rock the outdoor venue now known as the Center. (At the time, it was the Coca-Cola Starplex, and the other headliners included Collective Soul, Blink-182, Stabbing Westward and Lit. The times, they are a-changin'.)

Shortly thereafter I bought Rubberneck, and there's scarcely a song on it that doesn't bring back memories. My brother and I discussed a few of them in the days leading up to Wednesday's show, such as "Mexican Hairless" accompanying the climactic fight scene in a terrible, terrible short film we made, or listening to "I Burn" during a LAN party (remember those?). My favorite, though, is still "Backslider," a not-at-all-subtle dig at Lewis' religious upbringing. We had a friend named Matt Snyder, and we delighted in changing the climactic line to "I prayed, 'Sweet Jesus, don't let me become a Matt Snyder.'" It spurred him to buy the CD.

Because "Possum Kingdom" seemed to be the only Toadies song most people outside Texas had ever heard, I figured Wednesday's show would be attended by me, my brother, a few other die-hards and a random assortment of lookie-loos who wandered past Martini Ranch and decided to see where all that noise was coming from. I don't get to say this very often, but Scottsdale, you proved me wrong. The place was packed, and the crowd was singing along as soon as Lewis ripped into show opener "Mister Love," the second track on Rubberneck.

"OK," I thought. "These people are here to hear Rubberneck, just like I am."

Wrong again. There was an amazing amount of interest in songs from that album's long-delayed follow-up, Hell Below, Stars Above (the band's original offering, Feeler, was rejected by Interscope). There didn't seem to be as much call for last year's No Deliverance, but as much as I disliked that album on first listen, songs like "So Long Lovey Eyes" and "Song I Hate" really blossomed live. The band kept the onstage banter to a minimum ("We're usually more witty than this," Lewis assured us), although some faulty wiring on Clark Vogeler's guitar frequently forced them to kill time with abbreviated renditions of classic rock staples like "Aqualung" and "La Grange." (First few times: Tolerable. Fifteenth time: Annoying.)

Those of us who were there to hear Rubberneck weren't disappointed; that album comprised half the setlist. Everyone was into it, perhaps excessively so -- a few scuffles broke out near me, and Vogeler had to tell the girls in the front row to stop grabbing him because "I need that hand to play with." But they didn't forget how to play the hits during that five-year hiatus, because "Away" and "Tyler" sounded just as good Wednesday as they did on my Discman during the mandatory football pep rallies. The Toadies still rock, and much to my surprise, a lot of Arizonans are still rocking along with them. And I thought you had to be from Texas to be a Toadies fan.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Toadies, with show openers Flight to London (a "Wonderwall" cover? Really?) and The Willowz (here's hoping they headline their own tour soon), at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale.

Better Than: Getting murdered behind a boathouse, or any of the other unsavory things that happen in Toadies songs.

Personal Bias: I'm a sucker for multiple percussionists, as evidenced by my love of the Decemberists' live performances of "The Rake's Song." For show closer "I Burn," the Toadies dragged The Willowz on stage to play along on no fewer than five snare drums. Arguably unnecessary, but definitely entertaining.

Random Fact: "Possum Kingdom" is named after a lake near Fort Worth -- something I didn't figure out until near the end of high school, when I was working at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and sold someone a map of Possum Kingdom Lake.

Further Listening: Seriously, go buy a copy of Rubberneck and try not to like it.

By the Way: I understand that personal space considerations go out the window at a venue like Martini Ranch, but that doesn't mean common courtesy should do the same. When you're wedging your way past me on your odyssey toward the front row, would an "Excuse me" be too much to ask?

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Noah Austin