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It was a Big Deal time slot: Lollapalooza co-headliners Wilco and Rage Against the Machine were scheduled to go on at8:30 p.m. Saturday, August 2, about an hour after the Toadies' slot at the three-day Chicago festival. Almost all roads in Grant Park that day, then, led fans to the Toadies' set.
During the revered Fort Worth post-grunge band's time slot, festival-goers only had one other option, albeit a worthy one: retro-soul act Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Most, though, chose to take a chance on seeing a band they probably hadn't thought about in, oh, ten years or so.
So there the Toadies were — frontman Vaden Todd Lewis, guitarist Clark Vogeler, drummer Mark Reznicek and new bass player Doni Blair — about to play a show in Chicago's Grant Park to a massive crowd of curious listeners.
With Riverboat Gamblers and Lions, 7 p.m. Friday, August 29, at Verizon Wireless Theater, 520Texas, 713-230-1600.
"It scared the fuck out of me," admits Lewis. "We were in front of 40 or 50 thousand people. And I knew that, for a majority of them, 'Possum Kingdom' would be the one thing that they knew of ours, if that. But they were into it, and it felt great."
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Lewis calls the band's Lollapalooza experience "exhilarating," but more than that, it gave him a great sense of relief. It's been 14 years since the Toadies rose to national prominence. With the release of 1994 debut Rubberneck and its immensely popular hit single "Possum Kingdom," the quartet went from popular Dallas/Fort Worth act to staple of alternative-rock radio across the country.
The Toadies survived seven years — including an aborted follow-up LP that was never even pressed — on Rubberneck's success before finally releasing their next album, 2001's Hell Below/Stars Above. But just five months later, the Toadies announced they were breaking up.
Original bass player Lisa Umbarger wanted out; without her, Lewis, Vogeler and Reznicek decided there was no point in continuing to create new Toadies songs.
At least that album's bombastic direction lent itself to Lewis's next project, modern-rockers the Burden Brothers.
Lewis toured with that moderately successful band for several years, while Reznicek joined Metroplex country favorite Eleven Hundred Springs and Vogeler became an editor on Bravo's reality hit Project Runway. The Toadies, it seemed, were done for.
Then in 2006, after the Burden Brothers took a (still-ongoing) hiatus after the release of second disc Mercy, the Toadies reunited to play both the Dallas Observer's Greenville Avenue Saint Patrick's Day Parade Party and alt-rock radio station the Edge's annual How the Edge Stole Christmas bash. Afterward, the band promptly resumed its dormancy.
Last year, Lewis found himself writing new riffs and lyrics at his home in Fort Worth. For what, he couldn't say — maybe another Burden Brothers record, maybe for a solo record. But the more he thought about it, he realized he had written a batch of Toadies songs.
"The songs all had that weird, something-wrong-with-them thing that Toadies songs do," Lewis says. "I put all the Toadies-sounding ones on hold, and I called the other guys."
When Reznicek got the call, he balked.
"I kinda thought, when he was first talking about it, that he was gonna do a solo record and he wanted me to play a couple songs on [it]," the drummer says, sitting across the table from Lewis at a Dallas Tex-Mex restaurant. "When he hit me with the full-on Toadies record, I thought, 'Ooh...lemme think about it.'"
As far as everyone — band members and fans alike — was concerned, the Toadies were over. Everyone had moved on. But after a little convincing from Lewis, Reznicek and Vogeler eventually signed on. The songs gradually took shape, and third CD No Deliverance was released August 19.
"For me personally, the time apart has been helpful," Lewis says. "I used it to my advantage because it really helped me understand what makes the band click. This is the most confident thing that I've written. I know how to make a surefooted record; we all do. We know how to do what we do and make it pop."
That much is undeniable. The title track and lead single apes the ZZ Top-esque, Texas-swing style of Rubberneck's "I Come From the Water"; "Song I Hate" finds the band in a Pixies-influenced pigeonhole à la "Possum Kingdom" follow-up "Tyler." Opener "So Long Lovely Eyes" has the band coyly injecting poppy, cooing backing vocals into an otherwise heavy effort, while "I Am a Man of Stone" manages both a flirtatious and vindictive vibe.
But as Lewis notes, there's no obvious "Possum Kingdom 2," and thus no likely immediate smash hit. That's not to say the album fails at all.
For die-hard Toadies fans, No Deliverance is fantastic. For more casual listeners, it's a fun record, an exciting diversion and an enjoyable reminder of the band's entertaining past. It's every bit as gritty, heavy and loud (if not more so) as the band's previous efforts. But, ultimately, it's no career-definer.
Lewis and Reznicek understand that. They know that on tour this fall, fans will expect to hear the old songs. Before launching into "Possum Kingdom" at Lollapalooza, Lewis reportedly announced to the crowd, "Hey, we're that band that played that one song!"
"I didn't care if people bought it or dug it or not — and that sounds like bullshit — but I wanted to make a record that sounded like and really represented the band and what we were good at and where we are now," Lewis says of No Deliverance. "That was my objective."
Consider that objective complete. But is the Toadies' cycle complete too?
Lewis won't say.
"I'm not gonna rule out more Toadies records," he says before his drummer cuts him off.
"Let's see how this one works out first," Reznicek says.
"Well," he says with a sigh. "I've learned to never say never. Clearly."
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