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Pop Music Review

Toadies Come Out of Hibernation With New Energy

April 23, 2001|STEVE APPLEFORD

Context is everything. Back in 1995, the Toadies were an intense, if inessential, rock act with lyrics of dangerous sexual obsession and a sound blissfully derivative of Nirvana and the Pixies. The band's "Rubberneck" album was a bestseller, but the Toadies went years without a follow-up collection.

That was then. In 2001, the Toadies deliver the new "Hell Below/Stars Above," and it's a welcome blast of energy and angst in an era of teen pop and too many ham-fisted metal-rap bands. The same could be said of the Toadies' show Saturday at the Troubadour, where the quartet erupted from its time capsule with fresh spasms of pain and euphoria.

Leader Todd Lewis sang with controlled intensity, falling somewhere between Frank Black and Kurt Cobain, ripping through dark lyrics of love ("Dollskin"), violence ("Plane Crash"), domination ("Heal") and implied horrors right out of EC Comics ("Jigsaw Girl"). And between songs, Lewis twice offered licks from ZZ Top's heavy-breathing chestnut "Tush."

Lewis called the Toadies' big rock hit, "Possum Kingdom," their "pay the rent" song. And fans dutifully bounced to its familiar riffs.

The truth was that the newest material outclassed almost everything else, making even the encore-closing cover of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" fun but unnecessary. That's a steep learning curve for any band, even six years later.

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