toad the wet sprocket

Toad the Wet Sprocket is on the last leg of a tour before they head back into the studio to record their first new album in well over 15 years... so I thought I'd check them out live one more time, Monday night at The Kent Stage, in Kent, OH.

In 1998 Toad the Wet Sprocket parted ways and I didn't have my first opportunity to see them until 2009.  Thus; I don't know what their shows were like in the 1990's.  What I do know, however; is that I overheard other concert goers at the venue say that it was like listening to their records...that this was an awesome show...that they still sound great.  This was from both first timers and from those who've seen Toad perform many times over the years.

For about 1 hour and 45 minutes Toad delivered 23 songs, 3 of which came in the encore.  It was a live cranked-up version of their music catalog: Something's Always Wrong, Whatever I Fear, Good Intentions, Stupid, Windmills, All I Want, Crazy Life, Nightingale Song, Come Down, I Will Not Take These Things for Granted and Come Back Down.  In the middle of the set they tried out two new songs (which they also did at the show in Pittsburgh back in April): The Moment and Friendly Fire - they already sound like old Toad favorites. To me the overall mood seemed to trend a bit more moody and darker than the other concerts I've attended.  As part of the encore, Toad did an amazing version of Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie) and then slowed things down with their final song Walk on the Ocean.

Jonatham Kingham with Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket

Jonathan Kingham pulled double duty.  Playing keys and other instruments for Toad, and opening the show. Mr. Kingham, who now lives in Nashville and resembles Keith Urban, immediately developed a rapport with the audience that carried him through his brief 5 song, 40 minute set.  The highlight was when Mr. Kingham did a free styling rap in the middle of Every Little Step (Bobby Brown).  He has this natural ability to improvise - encompassing everything that he talked about during his set into the rap.  The audience showed their appreciation by giving him a standing ovation before he did his final song Grace.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Toad the Wet Sprocket:  Quality music on and off since 1986. Toad was certainly on Wednesday night for their 2nd visit to the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead  in just under two years.

20 songs with a 2 song encore in a 95 minute set that really showcased the music of Toad for the last quarter century.  Talented musicians playing their songs for an appreciative audience.  Not many bands can boast of the original line-up 25 years later.  Or still sound as good as they do or better than on their records.

Be patient, there’s new Toad music on the way in 2012.  In the interim the band is offering up All You Want.  The members of Toad got together to re-record 11 fan favorites to bring them up to date with some new arrangements.  For example, the new version of Walk on the Ocean doesn’t end with a cold vocal, the music and singing continues on like a wave.

During the show, Glen Phillips looked very serious at times, or perhaps just intent on concentrating on the music.  I was watching his bare feet maneuver the box in front of his microphone stand.

A few times you could tell which song would be next as Mr. Phillips would share part of the lyrics (did I repeat myself?).  Todd Nichols (guitars) handled lead vocals on a couple of songs, Dean Dinning (bass, vocals), Randy Guss (the often forgotten drummer in the back), guest multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Kingham (keyboard, mandolin, lap steel, vocals) and Glen Phillips (lead vocals, guitars) spread out on the large stage.

The new songs were mid set.  They offered us a taste of the future with The Moment and Friendly Fire.  Both songs are very reminiscent of the Toad sound long-time fans have come to love.

This was only the 3rd time I’ve seen Toad the Wet Sprocket in concert (and Mr. Barb’s 1st).  Each show, Mr. Phillips seems to forget a lyric and/or just how a song goes.  Ooops.  It’s endearing and adds that human element to their musical presentation.  Mr. Philips commented that they were telling the folks back home in California that they were playing “Carnegie Hall” but that they don’t have to know it’s not the one in New York City.

The Set list:

Wrong

Is It For Me

Woodburning

Jam

Crowing

Good

Way Away

Inside

Torn

Windmills

The Moment

Friendly Fire

Come Back Down

Nightingale

Fear

Better Off Here

Crazy Life

All I Want

Brother

Fall Down

Encore:

Come Down

Ocean

When the members of Toad came back on stage for their encore, Glen Phillips shared with us that he gave the meat/fries/slaw Bugh sandwich another try and liked it.  Although he admitted (and received some boos in response) that he could not finish the whole sandwich, especially having to perform a show later.  The final song of the evening, Walk on the Ocean is now 20 years old and still sounds relevant.

After the show, Glen Phillips (who is now a very youthful looking 40) came out into the lobby to greet fans, sign autographs and pose for photos.   At one point, Mr. Phillips was crouching down, holding a small pink guitar which he was signing for a young lady.  The next generation is already enjoying the music of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Carbon Leaf began the evening with a full-hour of music on their first night in support of Toad.

This 5-piece band out of Virginia performed a 9-song set.  Highlights: Lake of Silver Bells, Torn to Tattered, The War Was in Color and The Boxer.  Instruments included the penny whistle, upright bass, mandolin along with guitars and drums.  They ended their set around the microphone center stage singing Another Man’s Woman.

Barb S - Sunday Mix Host

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Singer-Songwriter Jonathan Kingham is joining Toad the Wet Sprocket on tour this year.  Toad will be coming to the Pittsburgh area soon.  (You can check out the WYEP Concert Calendar for more information.)

Barb WYEP's Sunday Mix Host (WYEP):  Hello Jonathan!  Thanks for taking the time, while you are out on the road with Toad, to respond to some questions via e-mail for the WYEP Music Blog!

Jonathan Kingham (JK):  My pleasure. Thanks for having me!

WYEP: Jonathan, how did the opportunity come about to play keys for Toad the Wet Sprocket?

JK: I've been friends with Glen Phillips for a long time and consider him one of my best friends. We've toured a lot together over the last few years with me opening for him and backing him up on keys and guitars and vocals. He offered up the idea of me playing keys and lap steel with Toad and I thought it would be a good time as I'm a fan of all the Toad albums and obviously I'm a fan of Glen's solo work so I said yes.

WYEP:  How many Toad songs did you have to learn?  What is your favorite Toad song to perform?

JK: I think the list Dean emailed me was about 40 songs. We got two rehearsals and that was about it. Luckily there are a lot of youtube videos I can reference....My favorite song to play is probably either windmills or one of their new ones called "moments" and "Friendly Fire" They've been writing for a new album and the new tunes are really great!

WYEP:  You recently relocated to Nashville from Seattle.  As a singer-songwriter, how has this move been for you artistically?  Seattle has quite a vibrant local music scene, so what prompted the change?

JK: I absolutely love Nashville. I've been living there part time on and off for the last 8 years and it just finally made sense to be there full time. I love Seattle and was there 15 years. It is really beautiful, but it is also really hard to travel and tour out of there. Nashville is so central to everything, the cost of living is a lot lower and the community is really welcoming and supportive. Oh, yeah, and the sun comes out a little more often than in Seattle...I'll probably be writing more happy songs now that I'm in Nashville

WYEP: It is intriguing when a singer-songwriter covers a song by another singer-songwriter.  On your most recent release Smooth Out the Lines, you do an amazing version of Marc Cohn's Ghost Train.  Why did you decide to record that particular song?

JK: Thanks a lot. I am a big fan of Marc and I always felt like that song got overshadowed by "walking in Memphis"on that album. I had been playing Ghost Train for a long time live at shows and it seemed to fit nicely with the other 9 songs on the new album so I recorded it.

WYEP:  You host songwriting workshops.  If I were to enroll in your Songwriting Made Simple workshop, what would I learn?  Is it really simple to write a song?  After all you have many years of experience as a songwriter, how do you share with others what you have learned?

JK: I really love a great song and our whole goal with the songwriting workshops is to help people realize that even if they don't have any formal music training they still possess the ability to write a song. We start with the different parts that make up the structure of the song, then we have the students create a chord progression, and then craft a melody.  Then we do brainstorming lyrical exercises to get ideas flowing which we then funnel down into ideas that become our title, verses and chorus. It may not be a song that changes the world, but it will be a song and it will hopefully set you down the path of writing more songs.  So yes, it really is simple to write a song. ...

WYEP: So, last year, if I called the City of Seattle, and was put on hold, I would have had the chance to hear a song from you in the Muzak?  I read on-line about the Seattle onHold program that plays music by local artists on city phone systems.  Seattle was the first city to feature local music.  What song(s) of yours were selected?  How did your music get chosen to be a part of this program?

JK: It was a cool thing. It wasn't thru Muzak but the City of seattle used all local musicians as their on hold music. I believe they played "September skies". It came about because I had done a Seattle Downtown Series concert and the guy who booked the series also was the one spearheading the on hold music.

WYEP:  One of my favorite songs of yours is Grace.  What was the inspiration behind that song?  It is really beautiful and I think your signature song.

JK: Thanks a lot. That is my favorite song I've ever written and I don't like a lot of the songs I write. Ha. I had that guitar riff and the first verse  for a long time and then it all tumbled out. I feel like some songs you really work at and try hard to write and about every 50 or 60 you get handed a gift that you are just the conduit for and it comes out effortlessly. That song is a reminder to me to never take for granted what I have been given.

WYEP:  Another favorite is September Skies.  When I am outside walking and that tune comes on my MP3 player, it provides such vivid images in my mind of the fall season.  For a song like that, do the lyrics come first and then the melody?

JK: That song was actually done and ready to be mixed and was titled something different when my mother got diagnosed with cancer. It was in the fall and I was on tour in Ohio, walking along the river. It brought everything acutely into focus about how fragile and precious life is and I went in an re-wrote all the lyrics and re-cut the vocals. For that one, when I wrote the string arrangement I actually liked the melody line of the violins better than the original melody so I re-wrote it to marry with the string section.

WYEP:  I am also quite partial to AM Radio (Hardwood Floors).  I grew up listening to AM Radio and was even on-air at AM Radio stations many years ago … I was wondering if you wrote this song about a particular radio station.  There are not many radio stations on the AM band that are as soulful sounding as you described in the song.

JK: Well that wasn't about one particular station but that song started out as a tribute to my dad. We didn't have a TV growing up and my father would listen to old radio dramas on his little AM radio and he'd listen to baseball on Sunday afternoons and so I started out to write a song for my dad and his AM radio but it quickly shifted to a "late night with your lady and some wine" kind of song.....

WYEP:  How did you pick up your rapping skills?  You seem to have the natural ability to be able to spontaneously perform a rap.

JK: Uh, yeah i'm kind of freak that way. I've always loved all styles of music especially hip hop. I used to tour with a folk group and one of the other guys in the band Evan Brubaker and I would freestyle battle back and forth. Then I started playing college cafeterias and a lot of the time, the students wouldn't be paying any attention. Then I'd drop a few freestyle rhymes on them and all of a sudden you have everyone in the room's attention. Now it is kind of expected that I'll do it but its different every single night so I don't get tired of it.

WYEP:  Jonathan thanks for your time!  Safe travels and best of luck in the future!

JK: Thanks so much, we'll see you in Pittsburgh, home of the silent "H"

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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I've had the pleasure of interviewing singer-songwriter Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet SprocketWorks Progress Administration) via email for the WYEP Music Blog a couple of times.  Now you have the opportunity to ask Mr. Phillips a question.  Ask Glen Phillips / Toad / WPA - Fan Questions. You will find some interesting questions and even more intriguing answers from Mr. Phillips.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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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

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I have a confession to make. Six months ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you a song by Toad the Wet Sprocket (TTWS). Nor did I know that Glen Phillips was a member of that group. Since December 2008 I’ve seen Glen Phillips perform four times and had the opportunity to interview him for the WYEP Music Blog http://musicblog.wyep.org/2009/04/24/toad-the-wet-sprocket-an-interview-with-glen-phillips/ and now I just had the chance to see TTWS in concert for the first time. I’m reaping the benefits of volunteering as an on-air host at an independent public radio station, by discovering new music. Grant it, this time the artist first came on the scene some 20 years ago. You really can teach an old DJ new tricks. I’ve always had the ears of a DJ, but only in the last couple of years have they been exposed to what’s often labeled as “alternative” music. I’ve been asking myself over and over why I only now have found the music of TTWS and Glen Phillips.

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

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Glen Phillips will be in town with Toad the Wet Sprocket on Saturday May 2nd at the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead in Munhall.

Barb WYEP's Sunday Mix Host (WYEP): Hiya glen. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us at WYEP.

Glen Phillips (GP): My pleasure

WYEP: You're doing some solo gigs before joining Toad the Wet Sprocket in Pittsburgh. How do you make the transition, literally overnight in this case, from a solo act to a group?

GP: I like the shift. It keeps me on my toes, and reminds me of what I enjoy about each style.

WYEP: You were on the Cayamo cruise in March with about 30 other singer-songwriters. As a performer on the cruise tell us about some of your experiences:

GP: Uhhh...There was a lot. My favorite moment was eating conch salad at Potter's Cay in Nassau. The next was watching Shawn Colvin play. Or maybe Lyle Lovett. 

WYEP: How did you stay awake during your 12:30 am show?

GP: I didn't, really. I think I just managed to channel some kind of dreamstate into a weird extended narrative about zombies. There were supposedly a few songs in there, too.

WYEP: Vienna Teng joined you on stage one night, did you have the opportunity to sit in with any performers?

GP: Sadly, no. Saw some great music, though.

WYEP: During your final show, you did a song you wrote about being present when your father passed away. Can you tell us more about it?

GP: Not right now...It's all in the song, though (Darkest Hour). 

WYEP: Who was your favorite performer and/or favorite performance on the cruise?

GP: Hard to say. It was a pretty amazing collection. 

Glen Phillips with Barb S. - Cayamo cruise, March 2009

WYEP: Luke Bulla joined you on the Cayamo cruise and is also a member of Works Progress Administration. As part of W.P.A. is this your first opportunity to perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival? It seems like it will be quite an experience with a "festivarian audience".

GP: It'll be great. I love playing with Luke and the rest of WPA. It's the most fun I've had in ages, if not ever.

WYEP: What was the biggest crowd you ever played for with Toad the Wet Sprocket?

GP: Half a million or so, at the Capitol Mall in DC.

WYEP: Who were some of the memorable acts that Toad the Wet Sprocket played / co-billed with?

GP: My favorite opening act was Geggy Tah. The audience didn't always get it, but I thought they were brilliant. Greg Kurstin (Geggy) recently produced the Lily Allen record and is also half of The Bird and The Bee.

WYEP: As a teenager, you achieved a lot of success with Toad the Wet Sprocket. What was that like, at that young age, to attain that level of fame?

GP: Probably not a good thing. It helps to foster unrealistic expectations and feelings of entitlement. It was also a lot of fun.

WYEP: Boxers or briefs? Another way of asking do you like performing as a solo act or with a group?

GP: Boxer briefs, of course. I like being in a band when it's alive and passionate and full of mutual purpose. I like being solo when I'm alive and passionate and full of purpose.

WYEP:  One thing people would be surprised to know about Toad the Wet Sprocket is????

GP: We are all aliens.

WYEP: Thanks!

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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