Toadies at House of Blues, 5/9/2014
If playing their 1994 album Rubberneck front to back chafes the Toadies at all, they're being very good sports about it. The Fort Worth quartet has been on a nationwide tour all spring celebrating the 20th anniversary of the album, which bequeathed such unsettling anthems as "Possum Kingdom," "I Come From the Water" and "Tyler" to the angsty tenor of the times. ("I didn't realize how many of their songs were about rape," my brother said after the show, offering one not-uncommon interpretation.)
Rubberneck is not a long album at all, squeezing a lot of wrath and ire into just 11 songs. Friday night at House of Blues, as the Toadies steamed through it soup to nuts, it yielded the kind of feverish catharsis that comes from playing (and listening to) almost a dozen angry tunes very loudly and heavily, compounding the effect by barely pausing between them. Do that in front of a frisky, sold-out crowd for whom "well-lubricated" would be a charitable term, and the result was a first half-hour and change that felt both Pentecostal and demonic.
Those songs shifted somewhat in tempo and dynamics, to where "Possum Kingdom" was laid-back enough to allow for the huge buildup to Lewis shrieking "Do you wanna die?!" at the climax; while "I Come From the Water" almost became a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, so tightly did Doni Blair lock down its bass line. By comparison, "Backslider" and "Quitter" were just feral as Lewis and Clark Vogeler committed all sorts of guitar atrocities. But the set was all distinctly of a piece, exercises in tension and release that displayed a Pixies influence ranging from slight (opening instrumental "Mexican Hairless," a tribute to Toadies' old Metroplex compadres Rev. Horton Heat) to pronounced ("Tyler").
And appropriately enough for material shot through with such underlying rage, every song was greeted with a cheer that felt a little more savage each time, until they finally lost their shit for good when Lewis closed out "Velvet" by screaming "Mommy! Mommy!" Finally, he broke the tension after relatively subdued album closer "I Burn" -- it was like, "Where did that acoustic guitar come from?", so thick and choppy were the riffs that preceded it -- by asking, "Would you like to hear some songs that are less than 20 years old?"
What a card. Not that many people in the crowd Friday noticed, tuning out the instant they heard a song they didn't recognize, but the Toadies' great bait and switch is that they've improved quite a bit since the Rubberneck days. Sure, they can sound just as bugfuck crazy as they did in '95 ("Got a Heart"), while perhaps mellowing just a hair. "Push the Hand," for example, simply breathes heavy rather than hyperventilates. "Summer of the Strange" suggested they've grown downright sexy in spots, while a martini-dry cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" planted its big ol' tongue squarely in cheek, but did so with real reverence for the song's unshakable groove.
Of course that's not a word many people associate with the Toadies, "reverence." It was the '90s; people were angry. But as the band proved one more time Friday night, music makes a far better outlet for venting frustration and rage than some others that have come along since. Read an average comments section sometime?
Review continues on the next page.