The Toadies, We Were Wolves, PVC Street Gang
House of Blues
December 27, 2015
There are shows at the House of Blues, and then there are shows that make you question humanity at the House of Blues. Sunday night was no exception. What looked during the opening band like a '90s college-graduation reunion party, full of couples and double dates, dissolved itself into a drunken mob with security actively — and forcibly — removing people by the Toadies' headlining spot. It was not unlike having a blind date with a hundred assholes while your favorite band played in the background.
This was no tamed-down, nostalgia, radio-hit highlight show that I might have expected. Instead, I was in for a whole other experience by the underbelly of Houston audience behavior.
Personally, from a point of view we’ll call anthropological (for the sake of ignoring the Dallas/Houston rivalry) I was interested to see how a Houston audience would react to Dallas’s music on their turf. Sandwiched between two Dallas bands, We Were Wolves stood alone as the sole Bayou City holdout.
Openers PVC Street Gang, a three-piece from Denton, was acoustically the most interesting group I’ve seen in a long, long time. If anyone is surprised, they shouldn’t be. Let’s face it, Denton is to Texas music what Athens, Georgia, is to the rest of the world. In some fabulous secret dormitory north of Dallas, the best bands are formed from a magical music dust mined from the mountain of talent at the University of North Texas' music department.
Clearly repping the Northside, the drummer wearing a Brutal Juice T-shirt and playing on a sparse kit in true pared-down Denton style, PVC Street Gang thundered through the venue with only the bare-minimum necessities. I was mid-room near the bar and could feel every bass note in my chest. This guy was not messing around, and the crowd stood at attention in response.
The lead singer, looking something like George Costanza and sounding like a mix of the Pixies' Black Francis and Neil Fallon of Clutch, was spitting lyrics into the microphone like a man pleading for his life. In between wails and hollers were phrases like “kids on drugs,” “smash and grab ATM” — you know, the kind of snippets that make you wish for a lyric sheet.
This was no sophomoric sonic uniformity by a garage band who picked up their instruments as hobbyists. PVC Street Gang offered something uniquely refreshing and professionally inspirational; they’re the kind of band fans dream of discovering as an opener.
By the time We Were Wolves took the stage, the fans who knew them were shouting their names. These guys write songs that sound like the anthem to your best and worst breakups. Tracks like “She’s Alone” ripped across the room with some kind of controlled fury. “One Eye” opened with bass notes that bubbled up from some dark lagoon, then exploded. We Were Wolves have a tendency to take what seems like untamed and wild sound and domesticate it into an animal you don’t quite trust but want to touch anyway.
Lead man Drew Haught teased the audience by stepping to the very edge of the stage, looking them square in the face and dropping his voice to a casual whisper, “You having a good time?” Then he dropped a single guitar note across the silence that satisfied the ear like a sizzling shock of feedback. We Were Wolves write razor-sharp rock songs with the damaged souls of punk-rock kids parading around as hometown boys. To call them the quintessential bad boys your mama warned you about is an understatement.
The hard-rocking Houston quartet always promises such an outstanding performance, and dutifully delivered Sunday. Is there a bad WWW song? I haven’t heard one. Sure, their latest EP, Ruin Your Weekend, may be the stuff of gold, but to hear them live is the platinum experience, even if it’s just to watch the crazy shit lead singer Drew Haught does with his guitar.
Few bands unleash energy like these boys can. My personal rule of thumb is never to trust a band that isn’t sweating onstage. By their second song, the WWW boys were toweling off.
By 10 p.m., more people started filing into the House of Blues. Crowds pressed against the stage, slurring loudly, sloppily, “TOA-DIES! TOA-DIES!” Arriving onstage to the Star Wars theme, under red lights, the Toadies came onstage and picked up their instruments to the roar of a thoroughly pickled Houston audience.
How does Houston greet headliners? Same fashion as always: phones out, pot’s out. You can’t really expect manners from drunk people. This is not the opera, this is not Shakespeare in the park, this is the House of Blues, and tonight’s shitfaced crowd would be the happy House of Fools.
Looking more like Dads dragged to a PTA meeting than edgy alternative stars, the Toadies made no apology for their aging. In fact, in dignified fashion, the Toadies still write songs that hit me like an exposed nerve, with lyrics that read as if they’ve been ripped from my personal journal. the Toadies have a way of delivering a song as if every time is the first time you hear it.
Songs like “Backslider” made such an important statement on our contemporary religious practices and Southern culture that they are not just songs — they supersede their art form. Front man Vaden Todd Lewis’s powerful hold on the last word of a chorus is extraordinary. Expressing his voice with such palpable aggression and pain, he brings on chills. His lyrical poetry is a perfect marriage of anger and pain; this is emotional poignancy merged into perfect lyrics.
Lewis’s voice is easily one of the most recognized in alternative rock, with a range of vocal ability that compares with greats like Ian McKaye and Bono, no less. The man is an incredible creative force, and the Toadies played an outstanding set. While their '90s hits may have been crowd favorites, there was no denying that their newest tracks were the best.
The guitarist moved to a Korg keyboard while Lewis picked up an acoustic guitar. The sound guy came from behind the board to play percussion in a display of hard, rhythm-heavy blues songs that were aurally gratifying in the kind of way you'd expect from a group of Texas boys.
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SHOW ME HOW
I only wish I could have heard more without the inebriated enthusiasm of the assemblage. Houston’s response to the Toadies? Fights, caps and cups thrown onstage, and loud, rowdy bros elbowing their way to the front. Don't forget obnoxious talking during the slow songs, and phones up and recording during popular tracks. There were so many fights that at one point Lewis warned he’d stop the music if people kept being “assholes." Twice, he and the guitarist were pointed into the crowd for security.
*facepalm* Oh, HOUSTON.
All that kind of behavior makes us embarrassed for touring bands. However, the Toadies seemed unaffected, mostly. After playing three encores, Lewis yelled into the mike, “You guys are fucking amazing!”
I sigh loudly here. While it’s true Houston may be a horrible, drunken date, when we love a band, we love them hard, drunk and rowdy. I guess that does make us pretty fucking amazing, doesn’t it?