Texas legends the Toadies took the stage this past Friday for the first night of their fourth annual “Dia De Los Toadies” festival, a two day event that showcases great Texas music as well as a celebrates the long running band themselves. Over 15 years and thousands of shows later they show no signs of slowing down and if this performance is anything go by, they are a band that continues to evolve and grow far past the grunge-era anthems that helped them gain notoriety.
The night started with a passionate set from Austin locals The Quiet Company who did a great job of setting the scene and pace for the evening. As is the tradition, night one of Dia is the “acoustic” night, though lead singer Todd Lewis joked, “it’s not quite acoustic,” strapping on an electric guitar. He smiles and says, “more like sideways Toadies.” Surprisingly they kicked off the night with the very appropriate cover of “Ooh La La,” a classic song by The Faces. It set the mood for the evening as one of relaxed fun and reflection.
Of course catalog staples such as “I Come From The Water,” “Tyler,” and “Possum Kingdom” got the crowd excited and singing along to every word like they have for many years, but the night seemed to primarily belong to the unique covers and hidden gems of their repertoire. “Pink” and “Dead Boy” from Feeler came off just as strong as their radio singles and Hell Below/Stars Above closer “Dollskin” is still an emotional tearjerker to this day. New to the acoustic format, “Song I Hate” had more gravitas in this new stripped down arrangement than it ever did on 2008’s No Deliverance and was a pleasant setlist surprise.
One excellent indicator of a great band is their influences and musical taste, and the Toadies’ choice of cover songs show a band that not only has a keen reverence for the past, but a finger on the pulse of excellent song writing today. Classics included The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” and a smoldering version of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” in which Lewis sang the French parts in English, explaining, “I didn’t feel comfortable singing in French, so I google’d it and thought sure, what the hell.” Featured on their Record Store Day release early this year, LCD Soundsystem cover “Someone Great” returned in all of its mandolin-fueled beauty and a brand new cover of Ida Maria’s “We’re All Going To Hell” surfaced as well. Each was tackled with passion and superb musicianship, indicating a band that loves performing, even if the songs are not their own.
The faithfully-devoted hardcore fans were given a few surprises too. Non-album track “Paper Dress” made an appearance in a radically different arrangement, trading jagged, stabbing guitar lines of the chorus for eerie guitar breakdown and echo, as if the song had been transformed from its angst-ridden beginnings into the soundtrack to an old western ghost town. The song takes on a whole new life this way and it should definitely surface on a recording of some sort so that more people can appreciate the haunting appeal of the song. This however, was nothing compared to the shocking re-appearance of long buried and oft-request but always denied mid 90s demo and live-only song “Send You To Heaven.” It too was now very far removed from its loud post-grunge roots, instead injected with steel guitar and hushed vocals, giving the foreboding lyrics even more menace than ever before. To hear it in this new light was a breath of fresh air and one can only hope it too surfaces on a recording. To some it was just another song in the set, but to those real Toadies devotees, the ones that have always followed the band closely—it was a special moment of ultimate fan-service.
A raucous rock band can thrive or sink in an all too-obvious way in the acoustic or stripped-down setting. It’s the moment where brilliant songwriting stands out from studio trickery and gimmicks. Fortunately the Toadies positively flourish in this environment in ways that aren’t readily apparent from listening to their records. With this evening’s performance, the band has reminded us that truly great songs belong to no set musical era, scene or guitar tone. They are ideas that thrive no matter how they are interpreted.
By Jarad Matula