By Kim Johnson
Playing an outdoor show, in December, in middle-of-nowhere Helotes, is a gamble ... especially if the band's most memorable singles are more than ten years old. As a native Texan, I will stand by my assertion that the combination of standing around in 40-degree weather while holding ice-cold beer is anything but ideal.
Still, we, the nostalgic fans of '90s alt-rock, showed up in droves for the Toadies reunited (yet again) at Josabi's on Sunday night. Regardless of all obstacles past, there's just something about the rockin' Southern angst of the Toadies that keeps their fans coming back for more.
The saga officially began in '94 with the release of their first full-length album Rubberneck and its five singles: "Tyler," "Away," "Mister Love," "I Come From the Water," and "Possum Kingdom," which rocketed the Fort Worth band into a whirlwind of grunge success like nothing they've done since.
Interscope Records rejected the group's sophomore project Feeler in '98 and sent them back to the studio in hopes of recapturing Rubberneck-esque glory. They broke up five months after sophomore record Hell Below/Stars Above (2001) when certain members decided to move in different directions. A live album, Best of the Toadies: Live from Paradise, also failed to do much in the way of a resurrection.
But instead of disappearing, in March 2006 they reunited (for the first time) in Dallas, but "reunion" is a relative word choice since tormented-soul singer and guitarist Todd Lewis was (and continues to be) the only authentic original member. Current drummer Mark Reznicek joined in '91, guitarist Clark Vogeler in '96 and most recently, bassist Doni Blair in '08. An ecstatic response from faithful fans was enough to convince them to do a mini-tour in 2007 (Austin, Houston, Dallas) and release a second live album (The Rock Show, 2007).
Since then, the Toadies have been playing "reunion" shows with surprisingly positive feedback, especially in Texas. Besides their set at ACL this year, the band has mostly stuck to the shadows, playing in smaller, more remote venues. The Toadies are known and appreciated, but by a distinct fan base and much less so for their recent projects. The early singles are not only expected at shows, they are demanded by boisterous fans (the most common of which is male, aged 25-35, dressed in a style that I call 'Southern grunge'). To boot, "Possum Kingdom" was featured on Guitar Hero II, which has given Toadies fans a renewed sense of appreciation for the hit.
The problem with being a throwback is that no matter how they try to move on (ex: No Deliverance, 2009), the band will be forever haunted by the success of Rubberneck. It's anyone's guess as to how long the Toadies will be able to ride the wave of their '90s classics, but recurring reunions seems to be an effective strategy so far.