People, in general, are annoying. Sometimes I let that stop me from doing some pretty cool stuff if I know the crowd will exceed my maximum tolerable annoyance quotient. An especially common scenario is the world of music. There are a plethora of bands I’d like to see live, but I don’t automatically fork over my paycheck to Ticketmaster before running the event though a sophisticated Bat-Computer program that takes into account my level of desire to see the artist, venue size and location, cost, expected attendance, and possibly most important, the expected percentage of tools, douchebags, kids, drunkards, and women between the ages of 18 and 25. Drunkards used to get a free pass when I was one of them, and women used to slide by until I got married and old and didn’t have a shot with them anymore.
The Toadies show in Madison showed up on my calendar, and the Bat-Computer gave it a thumbs up. It just barely edged out the Black Keys show a few miles down the street from me on the same night. So I went. I might not have if I had known that the entire state of Illinois is down to one lane. A two-hour trip took over three hours. Since the Black Keys would have only required a 20 minute train ride, the Toadies had better made it worth the trip or I was going to kick some Todd Lewis ass now that he doesn’t have Taz around to protect him. But I digress. Remind me that I need to add traffic and construction into the Bat-Computer logarithm. I skipped the lame jingle jangle local campus band that opened the night, but caught the last two songs for The Whigs. I was hoping to catch a little more, but there was that whole traffic thing and then I had to eat the cold potato skin that Moist Rub had saved for me at the Big Ten Pub where we met. If I didn’t eat it then he would pout all night and then I’d have to kick his ass, too. I’m very angry when I get stuck in traffic, especially since I don’t drive much anymore. The check came and after both of us pretending to ignore it for 75 minutes he finally caved and picked up the tab. So back to The Whigs. The first song we heard seemed decent, but we only saw it on closed circuit television while trying to get our drinks. Our bartender’s cleavage was not good enough to warrant the inefficient service. Pick it up, sweetie… we’re not poor students and will actually tip you if you put a little effort into getting some libations in our hands. The last song of The Whigs set rocked it. It might have been Need You, Need You, but I’m not sure. I think I was distracted by the left-handed drummer. Any Whigs fans out there care to help out? Or are you going to be dicks about it like all those Men At Work fans that wouldn’t help me re-tie my bandana after it got knocked off in the mosh pit? I wish I had caught more of their set, but give them the thumbs up and they’re on the list next time I hit iTunes. I might even vote a straight Whig ticket this November.
It was a good sized crowd - pretty full house, but room to get in main showroom and move around a bit without getting any Axe Body Spray rubbed off on me. I was afraid most of the college crowd were there for The Whigs and might have scattered a bit, but crowd grew stronger. Big-time Toadies fans. All singing along, dancing, pogo-ing, and moshing from the start. It was beautiful. Maybe there is hope for this country after all.
So the Toadies vocalist is Todd Lewis. But he looks exactly like the Burden Brothers vocalist Vaden Lewis. Sounds like him, too. It’s like they’re Siamese cats or something. Actually he’s the same person. I guess he was doing the whole Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines bit. But I’ll just call him VTL. So VTL called the crowd "fucking awesome". Really, he said he meant that. At the end of the show he changed it to "fucking nuts", so now I'm not really sure if we were fucking awesome or fucking nuts. But it was one of the best crowds I've seen at a club in a long time. I'm fucking serious. And awesome. And nuts.
While studying for the show (what? doesn’t everybody?) I checked out the set lists from the last couple shows and it seems they really switched it up on me for this show, but I rolled with the changes and liked what they put together. Opened with Backslider and had the crowd from the beginning and never lost them. Closed with Tyler, after an audience vote on what they wanted to hear and in what order. He also did the first-timers poll and again had a big virgin contingent. But "the poll isn't official because some of you voted twice." It appears he's bucking for a position with the Gallup folks after the music thing is over.
I really regret not seeing them when I was in Texas despite the ridiculous crowds and douchebag element. Sometimes the music can wash some of the odiousness from the gutter. The tunes translate perfectly to a live setting and flourish outside of a studio setting. Sure, seeing a grizzly bear in a zoo is pretty cool, but it’s even more amazing catching sight of one in the wild. You know, as long as you don’t get mauled or anything. I almost considered dropping $80 to catch them at Lollapalooza two days later. I enjoyed the show that much. But the Bat Computer would never allow it.
After a band has moved on, you wonder why they would get back together a decade past their prime. So I was also observing each of the band members. The way I observe the seals in the zoo, wondering if they’re sad to be captive or kind of grateful they aren’t getting eaten by the polar bears. Clark often appears that he's in the rehearsal studio working out a song, then catches the audience out of the corner of his eye, and a smile slowly overtakes his face when he realizes people are actually watching the band and totally rocking out. Mark looks like a guy who has taken a sabbatical from his day job, but is hiding behind the drum kit so his day job co-workers won't find out what he's really up to. But he flashes the occasional smile to VTL to let him know where his allegiances lie. Or lay. I never figured that one out. And VTL just seems at home. Like someone who has found his calling. You know those bastards that piss you off because they found exactly what they should be doing in this lifetime and can’t imagine doing anything else in good times or bad, while the gods will laugh when the rest of us think we’ve found our lot and take it all away. Thanks to Juliette Lewis for helping wrap up that last sentence. Finally, you know I have a fetish for female bass players so I miss not having Lisa there, but the new bass player dude understands his place. Just lay it down, enjoy the gig and stay out of the way.
VTL encouraged everybody after the show to come on down, because he wanted to meet them, and a lot of people did. So I took a pass. You know, the “people” thing. However on my way out, I yelled at him, "HR sent us," a shout out to one of his finest grassroots promoters. He looked confused and then I remembered that he was probably darn near deaf from years of touring, so I used American Sign Language. He looked further confused, probably because I don’t know ASL and looked like I was trying to put on a shadow puppet show for him. So I yelled louder. He seemed to pick up on it this time, looked confused, had the aha moment, smiled and gave the thumbs up.
It was only 2-1/2 hours to get home and I was in bed by 3:30 for a few hours sleep before heading off to work again. But it was worth the trip. The Toadies just announced more dates in support of No Deliverance (release date Aug 19). So go. Speaking of which, the new material went over pretty well. You know when the Stones come to town everybody wants to hear Sympathy for the Devil and Gimme Shelter and as soon as they hear Mick introduce one from their latest release they take off to drain the lizard or refill their $7 cup o’ beer? Didn’t happen here – the fans stuck out the new ones and the tunes even seemed more warmly welcomed than Barack Obama at a Birkenstock outlet. I look forward to the new CD, and look forward to seeing you at the next show. Just be sure to give me a little space. And don’t talk to me. I mean it.