If you grew up in the North Texas area in the mid-to late-1990s and you just so happened to listen to rock music, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Toadies. This post-grunge era quartet made its mark with songs like “Possum Kingdom” and “Tyler” after the band’s 1994 full-length release “Rubberneck.”
This now-classic album is one year away from being 30 years old, yet I find myself still listening to “Rubberneck” with the same vigor I had for it the first time I heard it in high school. I guess I never soured on the album, although I have given it breaks from time to time to find new areas of musical inspiration.
However, I still find myself smitten with the album’s aura and unlikely protagonist in the form of lead singer Vaden Todd Lewis.
Say what you will about Lewis since he has been called the culprit for the Toadies’ many lineup changes throughout the years, but in the end, he’s a fascinating guy. So fascinating, in fact, that I made the decision to see the Toadies perform on the final leg of its 2022 tour, which just happened to come to a year-end stop at Billy Bob’s Texas.
I know what you’re thinking, “So, what? You got to go to a concert and watch a band you’ve always enjoyed play a gig.” Well, yes and no. Did I mention I’m now in my 40s? At this age I am happy with a lazy chair, a football game, and a cold beer. I am not the let’s-go-out-and-party-with-rock-bands guy I used to be. But I digress. It’s the Toadies, so, I made an exception.
Knowing full well how the crowd rules of a concert go, my plus one (wife) and I made it to the main stage pit at Billy Bob’s nearly an hour before the show began to stake our claim on floor space. I found a good spot in the pit, too, right in the center of the stage. I had my camera, and I was ready. I checked the lighting and patiently waited for the first band, Flickerstick, to take the stage.
As the lights went down, I could feel the crowd push in with its energy and insatiable desire to be entertained. Flickerstick was awesome from start to finish. Lead singer Brandin Lea buzzed over the crowd like an electric shaman putting everyone in a rock trance. Lea even joined the crowd for the third number, a move very reminiscent of the late Jim Morrison. As he sang in the center of a throng of fans, Lea seemed to be in his element, mystifying anyone in ear shot with Flickerstick’s brand of proto-pop meets hard rock.
Next, with our ears ringing and our hearts pounding like drumbeats, the once-scattered crowd moved together a little closer vying for a better view of the stage. It was at this point I barely had enough room to pick up my camera to take some photos. I inched my way a little closer to the stage after one person left our packed pit area and jockeyed for a better sight line. My feet are already killing me by this point, but the main act hasn’t shown up yet, so I suck it up.
I reflect 20 years back when outside of the club Trees in Deep Ellum me and a group of friends spotted a young band carrying equipment to their small tour van. We’d come to see the Toadies play but alas were held up and missed the show. But everything worked out when a friend went over to one of the bandmates and asked them who they were.
“We’re the Toadies,” a much younger Lewis told us, almost or slightly annoyed. I remember walking over to see these mythical beings and affirming that they were, in fact, mere mortals.
Being a smoker back then, I traded Lewis one of my clove cigarettes for one of his cigars and we smoked and talked about music. I asked for an autograph and Lewis obliged even though all we had was a highlighter. I tried catching my mom before laundry day, but she was quick and washed the faint autograph right out of my shirt.
That was it. That was what started my love affair with the Toadies. I know it was a small hang out but to me, it was like hanging out with Nolan Ryan for a couple of minutes. I must’ve recounted that story more than 100 times to anyone who would listen. It’s for this very reason that I suffered the front-row blues to capture a glimpse of my adolescents.
Then it happened. The lights went dim and four shadowy figures took their places on stage breaking into “I Come From the Water.”
I felt a wave of energy waft over me as I began snapping images of the band that defined my youth. My feet were no longer hurting; instead, a steady stream of energy rushed through me. I sang at the top of my lungs basically losing my voice after six or seven songs.
I’d found the doorway to my past and it was in the middle of the main stage pit in Billy Bob’s that Friday night. I assure you it exists. The trick is doing your best to find and capture it for as long as you can.
So, for two brief hours, I found myself in the center of the musical universe, all thanks to a couple of still-great Texas bands, two beers, and a lifetime of memories.
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