Two decades after their first release and a dozen years since they played Pittsburgh, Toad the Wet Sprocket (TTWS) was warmly welcomed back to the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead in Munhall stage. Dean Dinning (bass, backing vocals, keyboards), Randy Guss (drums), Todd Nichols (guitar, tambourine, vocals) and Glen Phillips (vocals, guitars), along with Johnny Hawthorn (lapsteel guitar, mandolin, electric guitar) performed a well received 90-minute set, which included a 3-song encore. This was their first show together in awhile and it was not without some opening night glitches. Phillips started on the electric guitar and when he tried to switch to acoustic guitar, he wasn't able to get sound. There was some minor problems at times when he continued to switch between guitars. Phillips also forgot the lyrics at one point to "Nightingale Song" (while the audience continued to sing along) and had to start the song again. Jennifer came out of the audience to "sing" along on "Butterflies". The familiar songs were all there: "All I Want", "Come Back Down", "Fall Down", "Good Intentions" and "Nanci". Phillips commented that his oldest daughter is just a few years younger than he was when he was a teenager writing songs for TTWS. Nichols and Dinning also took turns on lead vocals. The audience was standing for the encore, which included "Come Down" and ended with "Walk On The Ocean" (my personal favorite!). The fact that TTWS can reunite for shows from time to time and still bring a comfort level to the stage after all these decades is commendable. The band members look and sound youthful and still seem to enjoy playing Toad music. "Walk On The Ocean" was a fitting finale, with the strains of "... grow sweeter each season to slowly grow old" echoing in the venue.
Glen Phillips at the 05.02.09 TTWS show:
Opening the show: Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (SK6ERS). This was the first show for the MA based trio, after they spent time recently entertaining the troops. Band members include Stephen Kellogg (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), with multi-instrumentalists who also provided back-up vocals: Boots Factor (drums, percussion) and Kit Karlson (bass, accordion and tuba, yes tuba). They did an 8-song, 40-minute set. Kellogg reminds me of a cross between Elvis Costello and Glen Phillips. He looks like Costello, sounds vocally like Phillips. "4th of July" is a 3-minute pop hit of their story. "Milwaukee" received the longest applause. Kellogg did an extended version taking us in a rap from the ages of 20, 25, 28, to 30 into a steak house singing Tom Petty songs. Their final song, "Big Easy", involved audience participation with us going round and round in the air with our hands. Kellogg greeted fans and signed CD's in the venue lobby at intermission. I was impressed when Kellogg extended his hand to shake my hand and then signed my CD's. Their new CD, "The Bear", will be released September 8th.
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host
Mr. Barb wanted to see Jonatha Brooke. She’d been on his list of performers he’d always wanted to see live. She was coming to Pittsburgh with Glen Phillips. Mr. Barb assured me I’d like Glen Phillips, knowing I tend to like male singer-songwriters. For some reason I wasn’t really impressed with Phillips.
Mr. Barb said I would know some of the TTWS songs, like “All I Want” or his personal favorite “Fall Down”. In fact yes indeed I did know “All I Want”, one of those songs I remember from my commercial radio days. Okay, we’re on to something here. I put “All I Want” on my personal list of essential songs for WYEP’s 913 Essential Songs countdown. I was listing songs that lead me to discover certain artists . When Phillips sang an acoustic version of “All I Want” in December at the Rex, it was the only song I recognized in his set.
There would be more chances to experience Glen Phillips live. Glen Phillips was one of the many performers on the Cayamo cruise in March. We somehow ended up at all three of his performances and seemed to run into him (okay I did, really I was not stalking him!) in the Garden Café in the mornings. We had attended the late Brandi Carlile show one night and thought gee, before we head to our cabin let’s check out Phillips’ 12:30 a.m. show; never intending to stay for the full set. Well it was 2:15 a.m. before we got back to our cabin. I did recognize another TTWS song “Walk on the Ocean”, which Phillips did in his sets. It has since become my favorite TTWS track. Something about seeing a performer in the early morning hours not remember all the lyrics, bang his head on the microphone several times and talk about zombies left a positive impression on me. After Phillips’ last scheduled performance on the cruise, I was able to get an autograph and a photo with him. I’m generally not outgoing when it comes to approaching performers, so it took a bit of gumption for me to walk up to him and chat about his music.
When I saw TTWS was coming to Munhall, I thought I better take the plunge and attend the show. Glen Phillips was very gracious to agree to an e-mail interview prior to the concert (trust me they are not easy to do, you don’t have the interaction you would if the performer was there in person, face to face). Since March I’ve bought or downloaded as many TTWS and Glen Phillips CD's I could find. I feel kind of weird admitting I’m this late in the game on TTWS music. I didn’t realize that Glen Phillips wrote a lot of the lyrics for TTWS. I was intrigued by the video on Phillips first solo recording, “Abulum”. It gave me a little more insight into Phillips' songwriting process. And I as I kept listening to the music, I kept saying to myself 'oh he did that one on the cruise'. I was putting two and two together. Plus I wanted to be familiar with the music when I finally saw TTWS perform.
So, I felt I really needed to share some insights on my limited exposure to TTWS, first, before getting to the concert review, so you could understand my vantage point. I’ve had to quickly bring myself up to speed on TTWS. Here's a link to my review of the TTWS concert (http://musicblog.wyep.org/2009/05/03/toad-the-wet-sprocket-a-concert-review/)
Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host