Monday, August 26, 2013

Toad the Wet Sprocket impresses in full-scale return

Glen Phillips at the Observatory on Aug. 25, 2013. 
Toad the Wet Sprocket is back.
Although the band has performed a few shows here and there since returning from its 1998 hiatus in 2006, the band has completed work on its sensational forthcoming studio effort New Constellation (I'll have plenty more to say about the disc around the time of its release on Oct. 15) and performed a stellar headlining concert at the aptly-titled Observatory in Santa Ana last night, Sunday, Aug. 25. Lead singer Glen Phillips took the stage just after 9:35 p.m., pleased by the strong welcome: "Hi, I remember you."

Performing a marathon-length set of 22 songs spanning old and new material, the Santa Barbara-spawned quartet opened with "The Moment," a driving and evocative song off New Constellation that blended Phillips' emotive vocals, textured guitars (Todd Nichols' work was superb throughout the night) and an artful mix of sections that flowed magically together. 
Other new songs were also performed during the set. The fiery "California Wasted," Americana-tinged "The Eye" and infectious title track also struck home, rivaling the band's masterworks that graced 1994's Dulcinea and 1997's Coil.

The audience was entirely tuned in throughout the 100-minute performance, greeting well-known hits and favorite album tracks with big cheers but then quieting to listen to the nuanced performance of each song. I've seen the band a number of times stretching back to the mid-1990s and can't recall a concert as rewarding as their focused performance at the Observatory last night. The guest work of Jonathan Kingham on mandolin, keyboards and lap steel added to the richness of the songs.

From the breezy country feel of "Good Intentions" to the haunting "Fly From Heaven" and weighty "Something's Always Wrong," the strong material was delivered with a renewed fire that extended beyond the artful arrangements, interesting solos and wonderful harmonies. 
The encore was spiced up during a faithful visit to David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust," where Phillips shared lead vocals with Lee-Phillips moved into the night-ending "Walk on the Ocean." A magic night to be sure.

Opening the night was the trio Grant Lee Buffalo, who I hadn't seen before. I was very impressed by the threesome's hour-long set of original roots-meets-alt rock approach. In particular, I was impressed by Grant Lee-Phillips' ability to power his 12-string acoustic guitar as if it was an electric instrument - blazing lead solos and all. My favorite song, "Jupiter and Teardrop," showcased an expansive and artful reading. I hope to get to see the trio (which also includes bassist Paul Kimble and drummer Joey Peters) again soon.

Read writer George A. Paul's comprehensive review of the show on his Music Minded blog here.

Set list: Toad the Wet Sprocket at the Observatory
Main set: The Moment / Woodburning / Good Intentions / Crowing / Windmills / New Constellation / Fly from Heaven / All I Want / Whatever I Fear / Come Back Down / Nightingale Song / Something's Always Wrong / The Eye / Crazy Life / Jam / California Wasted / Brother / Fall Down
Encore: Come Down / I'll Bet on You / Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie cover) / Walk on the Ocean

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