Fort Worth rock veterans owned the crowd at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey
Photo credit - Michael Kravetsky/Watermrk Studios
At the height of the 90s grunge/alternative revolution, the world was focused on the music emanating from the rainy Pacific Northwest, namely Seattle.
Almost 2,100 miles away in sunny Fort Worth, Texas, music fans were privy to a diamond in the rough known as the Toadies. Made up of four musicians creating a sound all their own, (think Pixies and Metallica giving birth to a punk-infused ball of energy), Toadies were writing songs and playing shows that would eventually cement the band as a must-see live act.
Vaden Todd Lewis, Darrel Herbert, Lisa Umbarger, and Mark Reznicek created Rubberneck and released it to unsuspecting music lovers on August 23, 1994. In a world dominated by grunge, Rubberneck was a non-stop gut punch of fast-driving hard rock with a Texan-sized bombastic rhythm and groove to boot.
On the heels of the now iconic single "Possum Kingdom", the band's debut album gained steam and not surprisingly blew up. It wasn't an instant hit but once it caught on it became a million-plus seller and the band was suddenly a thing.
Fast forward 25 years, 7 studio albums, and several EPs and live releases later, the band, now consisting of Lewis, Reznicek, Clark Vogeler, and Doni Blair, are as good as ever with no indication of slowing down.
Photo credit - Joe Mariconda
On October 21, 2022, the band from Fort Worth, that created 36 minutes and 27 seconds of furious and beautiful noise called Rubberneck, infiltrated the music-soaked town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, and proceeded to tear the fucking roof off of the sold-out Stone Pony.
Opening the show with the intention of lathering up the faithful who showed up in droves to hear one of the best albums of the 90s in its entirety, Toadies mixed in songs from various parts of their career to get the crowd ready.
"Little Sin" off of the band's long-awaited follow-up to Rubberneck, Hell Below/Stars Above got the festivities underway.
The angst-ridden "Polly Jean" (from The Lower Side of Uptown) brought the crowd closer to the main reason they were there. Rubberneck was just a few songs away.
You won't find too many debut albums that open up with a frenetic instrumental but this is one of the things that separates the Toadies from their contemporaries. They did things their own way. So once the chugging riff of "Mexican Hairless" began, The Stone Pony was no longer in New Jersey nor anywhere else in the Northeast section of the United States.
We were transported back to the mid-90s, in a club somewhere outside of Dallas, Texas and we loved every second of that imaginary trip.
If you know Rubberneck (I doubt you'd be reading this if you didn't), you'd know that it's an exercise in aggression and dynamics. The riffs and grooves typically lead you to epic and loud choruses and you're then left wanting more by the time the next track starts.
The band forged on with "Mister Love" and "Backslider" before ripping into the song that put the record on the map in the first place, "Possum Kingdom".
I can't imagine how many times these guys have played "Possum Kingdom" and I'm sure they don't know the exact number either. It would be human nature to possibly mail a song in from time to time when you've played it on most nights of your life.
Nothing about their performance of that song, or any song on this night, can be described as mailing it in. I'd argue that they played with a ferocious intensity brought on by the energy and love spilling onto the stage from the crowd and the band gave it right back.
The hyper and heavy "Quitter" came next, followed by the sing-a-long bounce of "Away", into the Sabbath-like riff/boogie of "I Come From The Water".
The last section of Rubberneck (which is probably my favorite section) consists of some of the best songs, in my opinion, of the entire Toadies catalog.
The haunting and powerful "Tyler" filled the room with energy hard to describe. The band was on fire and the crowd was singing at the top of its collective lungs. The song has a hypnotic ambiance that is undeniable and impossible to ignore.
"Happyface" and "Velvet" were sonic pieces of anger wrapped in pulsating and violent tones that took over the crowd for the six or so minutes the band was spewing them out to the sweaty masses there for it all.
The highlight of the night, on a night full of highlights, was the final song played off Rubberneck.
The album ends with the slowest and quietest track of the 11 songs therein, "I Burn".
From the first time I heard this album, over two decades ago, I was blown away by the sheer power the band was able to pour into this mainly acoustic track. The genius of the song lies in its subtle layering of sounds, rhythms, and riffs crawling just underneath the surface of the melody.
It slowly and eerily builds as it plods along. You don't know exactly what you're in for, but you know it's something big. When the pre-chorus and then chorus finally arrives, the payoff is masterful.
To recreate this live in concert could've been difficult but the Toadies had a surprise gift wrapped and waiting for us. Right before they began the song, several people joined the band on stage with extra drums and guitars in tow. There were at least four reinforcements if my memory serves.
They were silent throughout the verses...then, just as it does on the record, they exploded into a frenzy of pounding drums and layered guitars like I've never heard in one song before. The magnitude of the sound they produced was beyond anything the crowd could have expected.
When the song ended, I purposely looked at the faces of the fans and they all (as did I) looked spent, elated, and happy beyond belief.
And the show wasn't even over.
With four additional songs thrown in for good measure, the setlist was finally complete. This was one of those nights that simply could not have been any better. The band most came to see shattered expectations and blew everyone away. Leaving a show this satisfied is rare.
It wasn't just because of the Toadies though. Openers, Nashville Pussy, and The Reverend Horton Heat were fantastic. It was my first time seeing the hard-rocking Nashville Pussy and it will absolutely not be my last. Their punk-infused hard rock/metal songs were tight, loud, and full of attitude. I loved them.
I've seen the Reverend before and his psychobilly/rockabilly stylings are always amazing to witness live. The bill was simply incredible.
The 90s were obviously a great time for music as some of the best bands and albums came from the decade. As with all eras and genres, some fans move on and never look back. In other cases, certain bands get pigeonholed as one thing when it's just not warranted.
When "Possum Kingdom" blew up we were all introduced to one of the best bands of the 90s and beyond. For that, we must be thankful.
In some circles, when a song gets so big, it can go on to define the band that wrote it. In the case of the Toadies, that would be a mistake. Do not for one second put them in the "One-hit wonder" category of popular 90s bands or songs. That would be a grave error.
What the Toadies did on this night in Asbury Park, NJ is all the proof one needs to understand that this band has some of the best songs, and puts on one of the fiercest shows, you'll ever see. Don't believe me? Catch them the very next chance you get and then come talk to me.
"I Burn" live at The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ 10/21/22