It was a big-deal time slot: Lollapalooza co-headliners Wilco and Rage Against the Machine were scheduled to go on at 8:30 p.m. over the summer, only about an hour after the Toadies were scheduled to perform their own gig at the three-day Chicago festival.
And in a sense, it was like a perfect storm. During the revered Fort Worth post-grunge band's set, there were only two options for festivalgoers: seeing retro soul act Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings — definitely a worthy choice for some fans — or taking a chance on a set from a band most attendees hadn't thought about in, oh, ten years or so. As a result, there the Toadies were — frontman Vaden Todd Lewis, guitarist Clark Vogeler, drummer Mark Reznicek, and new bass player Doni Blair (formerly of Hagfish) — about to play a show in Chicago's Grant Park to a massive crowd of curious listeners.
"It scared the fuck out of me," Lewis admits later on, still reeling from the Lollapalooza experience. "It was scary. We were in front of 40,000 or 50,000 people. And I knew that, for a majority of them, 'Possum Kingdom' would be the one thing that they knew of ours — if that. But they were into it. Into it! And it felt great."
With People in Planes. Saturday, November 22, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. 8 p.m. $15. Call 954-561-0751, or visit cultureroom.net.
Looking back on the event, Lewis calls the whole experience "exhilarating." More than that, though, it also offered him a great sense of relief. It's been 14 years since he and his band mates in the Toadies rose to national prominence. With the release of their debut full-length release, Rubberneck, in 1994, and the subsequent release of that album's immensely popular hit single, "Possum Kingdom," the quartet went from popular Dallas-Fort Worth act to become a staple of alternative-rock radio across the country.
The Toadies survived seven years — including an aborted follow-up LP that was never even pressed — on Rubberneck's success before finally releasing their next album, 2001's Hell Below/Stars Above. But just five months later, the Toadies announced they were breaking up.
Original bass player Lisa Umbarger wanted out, and without her, Lewis and the other members decided there was no point in continuing to create new Toadies songs.
The direction of Hell Below/Stars Above loaned itself to Lewis' next project, the bombastic modern-rock act Burden Brothers. And as he toured with that moderately successful project, his band mates found new ventures of their own: Reznicek joined Dallas country band Eleven Hundred Springs; Vogeler became an editor for the cable reality-TV series Project Runway. While each of the three remaining Toadies found success in their new paths, the band itself seemed finished.
Until, that is, 2006, when, after the release of the Burden Brothers' second disc and after that band took a still-ongoing hiatus, the Toadies found themselves reuniting to play the Dallas Observer's St. Patrick's Day Parade Party randomly and, surprisingly, got a lot of support. But dormancy followed until late last year. Lewis was writing new riffs and lyrics at his home in Fort Worth. For what, he couldn't say. Maybe another Burden Brothers record. Maybe for a solo record. Maybe — just maybe — for another Toadies disc. When he sat down and thought about it, the last option made the most sense.
"The songs all had that weird, something-wrong-with-them thing that Toadies songs do," Lewis says. "I put all the Toadies-sounding ones on hold, and I called the other guys."
When Reznicek got the call, he balked.
"I kind of thought, when he was first talking about it, that he was going to do a solo record and that he wanted me to play a couple of songs on the solo record," Reznicek adds. "When he hit me with the full-on Toadies record, I thought, 'Ooh... lemme think about it.' "
The Toadies, as far as everyone was concerned — band members and fans alike — were a thing of the past. Everyone had moved on. But with a little convincing from Lewis, Reznicek and Vogeler eventually signed on.
Thanks to the time apart, Lewis found a renewed impetus. As a result, Toadies fans found a surprise CD release on August 19: the band's first in seven years, No Deliverance.
"For me personally, the time apart has been helpful," Lewis says. "I used it to my advantage because it really helped me understand what makes the band click. This is the most confident thing that I've written. I know how to make a sure-footed record; we all do. We know how to do what we do and make it pop. I don't think that's missing from any previous Toadies records, but it's definitely the theme with this one."
That much is undeniable. The title track (which is also the lead single) apes the ZZ Top-esque, Texas-swing style of Rubberneck's "I Come From the Water." "Song I Hate" finds the Toadies in their Pixies-influenced pigeonhole, à la Rubberneck's "Tyler." There are other strong efforts too. Opener "So Long Lovely Eyes" has the band coyly injecting poppy, cooing backing vocals into an otherwise-heavy effort. "I Am a Man of Stone" manages both a flirtatious and vindictive vibe. But as Lewis notes, there's no obvious "Possum Kingdom 2" and thus no likely immediate smash hit. That's not to say the album fails.
For the die-hard fan searching for a continued give-and-take with his or her favorite band, No Deliverance makes a fantastic offering. For the casual listener, it's a fun record, an exciting diversion, and an enjoyable reminder of the band's entertaining past. It's every bit as gritty, heavy, and loud — if not more so — than any of the band's previous efforts. But, ultimately, it's no career-definer.
Lewis and Reznicek seem to understand that. They know that, as they tour, their fans will want to hear their old songs. Even at Lollapalooza, before launching into "Possum Kingdom," Lewis reportedly announced to the crowd, "Hey, we're that band that played that one song!"
He explains how that applies to No Deliverance: "I didn't care if people bought it or dug it or not — and that sounds like bullshit — but I wanted to make a record that sounded like and really represented the band and what we were good at and where we are now. That was my objective."
Consider that objective achieved. Whether that means the completion of the band's cycle too, Lewis won't say.
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"I'm not gonna rule out more Toadies records," he says before Reznicek cuts him off.
"Let's see how this one works out first," the drummer offers.
"Well," the Toadies frontman says with a sigh. "I've learned to never say never. Clearly."