Toadies’ post-punk hard rock seemed a natural for radio, but the Dallas/Ft. Worth quartet had to tour with Bush for the better part of a year before Rubberneck‘s virtues were exposed to such a broad audience. Certainly the songs — especially “Possum Kingdom” — are a bouncing good time, and guitarist Todd Lewis has the knack of singing forcefully without merely shouting. Better still, with co-writer/guitarist Darrel Herbert, Lewis also solved the problem of how best to integrate guitar melodies back into loud music: solos are still too dated a gesture, but a catchy, tuneful scream fits the mood of the moment quite nicely.
After a lineup change that left only Lewis, drummer Mark Reznicek and bassist Lisa Umbarger from the original quintet that made the Velvet EP, Herbert was lifted from an inattentive Dallas band and the new tracks on Pleather (the rest comes from Velvet) were recorded.
Despite a six-year recording gap and the replacement of Herbert by Clark Vogeler, Hell Below/Stars Above is an unremarkable retread of Rubberneck. Through both the slow burners and martial-metal attacks, producers Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf again capture the band’s hammering at its most precise, but the album lacks anything quite as catchy as “Possum Kingdom,” and too much of the musical carnage sounds stale. “What We Have We Steal” recalls (gulp) Alice in Chain’s Facelift, and “Push the Hand” recycles the riff from their own “I Come From the Water” to a lesser result. Only two songs raise the bar: the fabulously tweaked “Sweetness” and the title track — one part velocity-punk, one part Stonesy gospel bravado — that features Elliott Smith (?!) on piano. The rest is so 1994 you can almost smell the trace of teen spirit.
After Umbarger decided she’d had enough, Toadies announced their dissolution in August of 2001, citing “overwhelming frustration” with the music industry. Recorded at Boston’s Paradise a mere three months before the breakup, Best of Toadies: Live From Paradise contains brutal run-throughs of the majority of their album tracks plus the previously unrecorded “ATF” and a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind.” Lewis’ ravaged voice strains while the band — tight but tired — plugs away, and the crowd eats it up. Say goodnight, Toadie.
Todd Lewis, now calling himself Vaden, quickly hooked up with drummer Taz Bentley (ex-Reverend Horton Heat, Izzy Stradlin) to form Burden Brothers. Using such backing musicians as Matt Cameron, Kim Thayil, Duff McKagan and Stradlin, the duo released three EPs via the internet (only Burden Brothers is in disc form) before permanently enlisting bassist Casey Orr from Gwar and guitarist Corey Rozzoni from Clumsy. That group’s debut, Buried in Your Black Heart, is a jumble of speedy double bass drum paralyzers and impassioned power-ballads. For Lewis, it’s the same shit, different decade. However, when they let it rip, Burden Brothers summon something much more than the pieces of Smashing Pumpkins (“Walk Away”) and Pearl Jam (“Your Fault”) that drift through the proceedings. Bentley’s drumming is phenomenal, driving the title track and “Come on Down” like a speedcore outcast, and Lewis’ vein-popping vocals add a wounded-dog immediacy, even in the sassy Poison-by-way-of-Queen sing-along “You’re So God Damn Beautiful.” Regrettably, the slow stuff gets old, and the first two singles (“Beautiful Night,” “Shadow”) are fairly rote, but enough of the album snaps with intensity. Think Queens of the Stone Age with a more enraged singer, and then think, whew, they don’t suck.
With a slight lineup change, that fear came true on the incredibly disappointing Mercy, which actually sounds like a bad QOTSA album. Without the bite that sparked Buried in Your Black Heart, the band goes through the motions, one crappy song after another. Even the better songs — “Good Night From Chicago,” “Oh, Cecilia” and “Everybody Is Easy (We Sink/We Swim)” — lack the spirit that formerly ignited the band.
After some touring and another lineup change, the Burden Brothers went on hiatus as Lewis relaunched the Toadies with Reznicek, Vogeler and bassist Mark Hughes. (By the time No Deliverance was released eight years after Hell Below, however, bass duties were handled by Doni Blair, formerly of Hagfish.) The record gets off to a rousing start with the rollicking “So Long Lovey Eyes” and — with the exception of the title track, which could pass for a Burden Brothers outtake, and the inert “Flower” — just gets better from there. Lewis/Vaden’s vocals are still strong, having changed very little since 1994. Despite strong rockers like “Hell in High Water,” the highlight is a slow number, “Don’t Go My Way.”