For the fifth summer in a row, alternative rock stalwarts the Toadies put on an incredible weekend of fantastic music in what they call Dia De Los Toadies. Since extending the celebration from one day to two, the first night has been a simpler affair, with only the Toadies and a single opening band, both focusing on a quieter, more acoustic set. Last year’s Friday night set was absolutely stellar, feeling like a version of MTV Unplugged or VH1 Storytellers. Unafraid to venture into new territory, as lead singer Vaden Todd Lewis explained, “doing the same thing again would be boring, so we turned this whole thing on its head to create something… weird.”
The atmosphere and mood of the Whitewater Amphitheater was mellow as the ‘Biergarten’ stage had over a dozen rows of chairs where people sat rather calmly, nursing beers and soaking in the intimacy of the evening. Classic soul tracks from the likes of Al Green and Lionel Ritchie set a relaxing tone. It was funny hearing this sort of pre-show music from a band known for their loud and aggressive tunes, but it was fitting for a hot and sweaty Friday night.
Austin natives Sixteen Deluxe opened the evening with a decidedly mellow set. “We’re gonna keep it quiet and pretty,” lead singer and rhythm guitarist Carrie Clark said as she tuned her guitar. As my first exposure to this band, they sounded like Mazzy Star if you gave them some coffee — still melodic and beautiful, but decidedly louder and confrontational. They impressed with a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” brimming with electric guitar sheen. Other songs of their own had a decidedly 90s alternative/shoegaze feeling to them, complimented nicely by a billowing smoke machine to match the smoldering rock. They’re definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed guitar-centric alternative girl rock/pop like Mazzy Star and Belly in the 90s.
After an unusually long wait due to technical difficulties, the Toadies took the stage, opening with a radically different interpretation of fan favorite “I Come From The Water.” Using groovy organ fills they exchanged the arena rock energy with a roadhouse boogie that would be right at home in a dark and seedy biker bar. It was a great way to start the night, inducing hip-shaking and crowd participation from the first song. Before their second song, Vaden joked with the audience, apologizing for the delay by saying, “we had technical difficulties… and by that I mean everyone else did.” With a chuckle they launched into Feeler, the opener “City of Hate,” which also took on a new dimension with organs replacing guitar chords. Surprisingly, the third song was “Tyler,” one of their most popular songs, made all the more delicate and beautiful using a mandolin. It got a huge crowd reaction, where places in the audience it was hard to hear Vaden over all the people enthusiastically singing along.
After its surprise reappearance at last year’s acoustic show, unreleased track “Send You To Heaven,” was played with nuanced pedal steel played by guest musician Joe “The Butcher.” As always, it was an utter treat to hear this hidden gem from their repertoire. With the crowd nicely warmed up by this point they turned to material from their latest saying, “this one usually has lots of feedback, but we’re gonna do it upside down and backwards like everything else tonight.” They played a slightly subdued yet still immediate version of their single “Summer of the Strange.” New song “Beside You” also made an appearance, with Vaden playing it completely alone, explaining, “I wanted to reduce it down to the lullaby it’s supposed to be.” The song was stark and haunting, the lyrical message of a loving father more apparent than in the raucous studio version. Well aware of the intensity and sadness of some of his songs, Vaden then said, “if you think THAT was a bum-out,” right before launching into the closing track from Play.Rock.Music. “The Appeal.”
The Toadies’ Tyler (Acoustic)
One thing you can definitely count on for night one of Dia De Los Toadies is the appearance of rare and interesting covers played only for this special occasion. This year there was a guest appearance from the incredible Sarah Jaffe as they performed a gorgeous cover of Pixies’ deep cut “Ana.” She contributed sweet backing vocals to “Pink” and stole the spotlight during an absolutely chill-inducing rendition of PJ Harvey’s “Down By The Water.” To conclude a great evening one of Texas’ rowdiest rock bands do their best as a laid-back band they end with their biggest hit, “Possum Kingdom.” Despite being seated for the majority of the set, the audience erupted in the first few notes, jumping out of their chairs and rushing the stage. Heads bobbed and everyone raised their voices to the air, with the entire audience matching the volume of the P.A. belting out this classic tune. The breakdown was even more drawn out than usual, winding everyone up with anticipation for the cathartic release of the song’s climax as everyone sings “Do you wanna die?”
With a gracious thank you the Toadies left the stage, telling the audience, “see ya tomorrow for the loud rock show!” With that the lights went up and soul music started up again as people shuffled out into the night, heads buzzing with what was a mesmerizing night of passionate, albeit acoustic, rock and roll.
Written by Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Senior Writer
Photos by Matt Danser
To read our interview with The Toadies’ lead signer Vaden Todd Lewis, click here.