Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Toadies/The Whigs/The Box Social; July 31, 2008; The Annex

Like a lot of people, I listened to The Toadies Rubberneck a lot in 1995, but probably not more than a handful of times since then. In ’94, I had just moved from their hometown of Dallas to Wisconsin and never got a chance to see them either place. While I loved it then, that sort of hard rocking music is pretty far away from most of what I listen to these days. Still, I gave in to the nostalgia and went to see them on this reunion tour leading up to the release of their first album of new material in seven years.

Good call. While the songs weren’t doing much for me that day when I revisited them, live the energy was undeniable. Despite the fact that Todd Lewis and company seem to have become rather paranoid over the years (he nervously requested that the stage be designated as their space at the start of their set) they haven’t lost any of the urgency that made songs like “Possum Kingdom” and “Tyler” such massive hits. He prefaced the set by saying that the way they were going to do it would be to play some old songs and then some new songs, you know, if that was OK. The crowd roared its approval. In fact, the surprisingly young crowd (and it was indeed a crowd, the Annex had to be near sell-out) who had to be in grade school when Rubberneck first came out approved of everything from the familiar to songs they were hearing for the first time.

Usually the last thing I want to hear from a band that I am going to see on a nostalgia trip is that they are going to be playing new material, but in this case the new stuff was as good or better than the stuff I knew. The title track as well as the rest of the songs from No Deliverance were engaging, urgent, and most importantly catchy, rock songs that didn’t sound the least bit dated. The Toadies sound has developed as if they had been a band the whole time instead of just reforming after more than half a dozen years. Part of that has to do with the fact that three fourths of the band are original members. Only bassist Doni Blair is new, replacing original bass player Lisa Umbarger who left the band in 2001 precipitating the break-up of the band. With the hardships that the band endured early in their career including a follow-up that their label refused to release and the flop of the record they eventually did release, it only seems fair that they would enjoy a renaissance now.

Athens’ Whigs seem to have adopted Madison as their second home. This was their third appearance here this year, with another visit already on the calendar (opening for the Kooks at the Barrymore in October). With the reception they’ve gotten thus far, it is easy to see why they like it here. They have gained fans the old-fashioned way- by hitting the road non-stop and playing damn entertaining shows. They were like a modern day version of the Monkees, all cartoonish energy and mod haircuts. Lead singer Parker Gispert keeps his guitar nerdily tucked up tight under his arm, the better to execute his amusing series of dance moves I guess. Their bubbly charm live sold me quicker than listening to their less memorable songs on MySpace could ever have. Combine that with the fact that the kids love ‘em, and I have to think they will be headlining their own tour soon.

I have been meaning to see the Box Social ever since reviewing their EP for Rick’s CafĂ©. With the amount of shows they play one would think that would be easy to do, but somehow this was my first time. Most of the reason is that, like the Toadies, they are heavier than what I usually listen to, so this is the kind of bill they end up on. Adorable in their youth and zeal, they started the night off well with their short opening set. Bonus, their brand-new, bright blue happy toast T-shirts. This was the rare show where I genuinely enjoyed every band on the bill, and no one was more surprised than me.

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