Throwing it back at Summerfest

The week of concert experiences that I just had is now history and will be impossible to top.

Mates of State and The New Pornographers last Sunday. The Weepies on Wednesday. And I capped it with Toad the Wet Sprocket last night to end Summerfest. Holy man.

In fact, last night was something of a 1990s extravaganza at Summerfest. Bookending Toad the Wet Sprocket were Tonic and Smash Mouth, all of whom are touring together this summer.

I saw Tonic during their heyday in 1998, and I liked enough of their songs that I was interested in seeing their 5 o’clock show last night. … It didn’t work out. The band was playing at the BMO Harris Pavilion, a newer stage on the grounds that I’m still trying to like, and it was swallowing their sound. The music was way too loud and indecipherable for my tastes, so I walked away after a few songs.

After grabbing a tasty burger and a glass of Mountain Dew at the stand for Miss Katie’s Dinerone of my favorite Summerfest dining spots – I headed to the Miller Lite Oasis to stake out a spot for Toad the Wet Sprocket. I found it in the third row, just left of center stage.

A short time later, Pet Engine took the stage. I gathered that they were a popular rock band playing the Milwaukee circuit during the 1990s and they provided a strong warm-up to Toad with their original alternative rock songs. Though they clearly had some longtime fans in the crowd, I think it’s safe to say the majority, including me, warmed up nicely to them by the end of their set. They threw in a rock cover of “Rainbow Connection” for good measure, too.

Funny thing about the crowd. Looking around, I got the sense that I had finally left the teenie bopper set behind this year and was proud to be in the mix with an older, more mature crowd that knew good music. The crowd was filled with people around my age through Baby Boomers – and it was that way at all the other shows I attended during the last week, too. … Heck, the guys in Pet Engine could have been the men in the Dad Life video. That, and they had a guy playing guitar who could easily have passed for Phil Dunphy.

At 8 p.m., it was Toad the Wet Sprocket’s turn. Going in, I had no idea of what to expect.

Toad the Wet Sprocket was one of the defining bands of my youth. I got hooked by hearing their songs on the radio during the mid 90s, and I fell hard for them when my girlfriend at the time loaned me her copy of "Dulcinea." I asked for the album that Christmas and got two copies of it. ... I added "Fear" to my music library shortly after that, and the rest of their albums in later years (Here's a good read about the making of "Fear."). ... I was crushed when I learned of their break-up in 1998 – and Ben Folds Five, the only other band I truly cared about around that time, did the same a short time later.

The one and only time I saw them was at H.O.R.D.E. Fest during the summer 1998 and their performance is a blur to me. As I remember it, their set was unfairly brief, and me and my buddies were positioned far beyond the stage in the lawn section where people laid out blankets to sit on. I couldn’t even tell you what songs they played that day. …

Toad was largely dead for the better part of the 2000s. Do they still have it? I wondered.

The answer is a whole-hearted yes, and it was worth every bit of the three-hour drive from The Farm and fighting post-Fourth of July traffic to get there. … While I was on cloud nine Wednesday night just having a chance to see The Weepies, and that was a great performance, I have to hand it to Toad as the most enjoyable performance of the week.

Kicking off their set with “Good Intentions,” all of the elements just sounded … right.

Glen Phillips’ voice hasn’t aged, and the band sounded every bit as fantastic as when I listened to them on the radio and my CDs throughout the late 90s. Mixing in a few newer songs – which sounded as great and fit in well with the old stuff – they started to get the crowd going with “Come Down” and “Stupid.”

Then they really hit a groove with a run of old fan favorites, starting with “Way Away” and “Is It For Me.”

Crazy Life” sounded great with the crowd singing along at its loudest to that point. Next, a fast-paced “Nanci.” ...

Then they closed out “Brother” and “Nightingale Song” with extended jams, featuring a mandolin solo on the latter. And from there they rolled right into “All I Want” and “Fall Down,” wasting almost no time between the two. “All I Want” really got the crowd singing, too.

I was so wrapped up in the music and atmosphere that I had completely forgotten about “Walk On the Ocean.” It, too, was excellent and included an extended jam.

By the time, Toad left the stage, the clock was pushing 9:15, but the crowd was hooked and wanted more. A chant of “Toad, Toad, Toad, Toad …” erupted and after a couple minutes the band members returned to the stage, looking humbled but excited to play another song. By then, though, the tech crew was already setting the stage for Smash Mouth, who were due to come on at 10.

The discussion that ensued between Toad and the crew was like watching baseball players debate an out call with a crew of umpires. But Toad won out and Glen Phillips signaled to the crowd with his finger that the band could play one more song ... Even then, the crew had already turned off their mics and it took what seemed like a couple more minutes to get them back on. When they did, the band started into their encore song, but the mics weren’t turned loud enough and the vocals couldn’t be heard. Several people in the crowd began signaling the sound booth to turn up the mics, and when they did – already halfway through the song – the crowd erupted in a loud cheer.

It was such a crazy few minutes that I couldn't make out the last song.

Here's the spot-on review of the show from OnMilwaukee ... and aha! The encore song was a cover of David Bowie's “Ziggy Stardust.”
The band, featuring Glen Phillips on lead vocals and guitar, Dean Dinning on bass and vocals, Todd Nichols on lead guitar and vocals, and Randy Guss on the drums, was a straight up, no BS, rock/pop show with a characteristic absence of glitz and glamor.
The crowd was made up of a combination of die-hard fans -- many of which knew all the words to the songs -- and a good showing of Smash Mouth fans, many donning green faces and Shrek-eared headbands.
The setlist
1. Good intentions
2. Whatever I Fear
3. Something’s Always Wrong

4. New Constellation
5. California Wasted
6. Come Down
7. I’ll Bet On You
8. Stupid
9. Architect Of The Ruin
10. Way Away
11. Is It For Me
12. Crazy Life
13. Nanci
14. Brother
15. Nightingale Song
16. All I Want
17. Fall Down
18. Walk On the Ocean

19. Ziggy Stardust

(Updated 09.02.2015) Here's a late-breaking video Glen-Phillips-at Summerfest interview posted to the Summerfest YouTube Channel ...

As for Smash Mouth, I can count the songs I know from them on one hand: “All-Star,” “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby,” “Walkin on the Sun.” … Throughout the afternoon, I had been debating in my head whether to stay for their performance. Really, Toad the Wet Sprocket was who I came to see, and I would have been more than delighted to see them and leave.

But I had a change of heart when someone started tossing “Shrek” ears to the crowd, and I realized, Oh yeah, they had that cover of ‘I’m a Believerin the ‘Shrek’ movie, too. So I figured I’d stay, at least for a little bit.

Funny thing about that crowd again. When Toad the Wet Sprocket finished their set, the crowd changed completely. All of a sudden my 30-something-to-Baby-Boomer crowd had deserted me and I was surrounded by mostly rough-around-the-edges, cigarette-smoking, beer-nursing 20-somethings. They represented the immature, cutting-into-the-tiniest-spaces-on-the-benches teenie boppers I loathe at Summerfest. The crowd I thought I had finally gotten away from. … And I got the impression they were only there because they liked “All-Star” and hearing “I’m A Believer” – the Smash Mouth version they surely think is the original, which, kids, is not even The Monkees, but Neil Diamond! – on “Shrek” when they were 10 years old.

As the kid next to me predicted, they opened with “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby,” and it sounded decent. But, oh were they loud. … I endured a couple more songs – that I didn’t recognize – before jumping from my spot on the bench and vacating the area. As I walked away, I thought I heard “Everyday Superhero,” which sounded all right, and Then The Morning Comes,” which I really enjoyed in its day. ... As I got closer to my car I could hear them across the parking lot playing “Why Can’t We Be Friends.” Oh yeah, I realized, they covered that one for a modest hit, too.

I really should have left when Toad the Wet Sprocket finished.

And gone to see Kansas instead. Here's there's performance of Dust in the Wind.”

Adding to my annoyance, I was craving a Taco Bell fix and found the closest location. But when I pulled up to the drive-thru, the cashier told me the restaurant wasn’t serving food because its sewer was backed up. Lovely. 

So I headed for the McDonald’s down the street. But their was no microphone in sight to place my order at the drive-thru. When I pulled up to the window, thinking I could place my order there, the girl I saw through the window ignored me.

Finally, I found a Taco Bell two more miles across town. I decided to pull up even though the line of cars in the drive-thru nearly extended beyond the parking lot. I was able to place my order soon enough, but then the line slowed to a snail’s pace. It took me almost an hour – an hour! – to get my food, as part of the search that started more than 90 minutes earlier just to fix a little Taco Bell craving. The struggle was real.

At least Toad the Wet Sprocket rocked.

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