These days, it seems like every band that saw any amount of success in the ‘90s is going back on tour. From the recently reviewed Wallflowers to Third Eye Blind, Soundgarden, Blind Melon and more, there’s no shortage of aging alt-rock acts cashing in on their nostalgia. So, when I heard that Toadies would be playing House of Blues with support from Helmet (along with up-and-comers Ume), it seemed like little more than an opportunity for the bands to exploit their respective brands for a paycheck. After all, neither of the bands are touring with their original lineups and this may be the last opportunity for these mildly successful acts to garner much attention.
Straight up, I was wrong.
As the crowd filed in, Austin Texas’s Ume started things off with their unique mix of hard rock and funk. Returning to Chicago less than a week after their Lollapalooza aftershow with Jane’s Addiction and Franz Ferdinand at the Aragon, the trio are on one hell of a roll! Ume’s sound was reminiscent of bands like Flyleaf and Shiny Toy Guns with more soul than the former, heavier tones than the latter and more musicality than either. Frontwoman Lauren Larson commanded the stage with impassioned vocals and a confident swagger while drummer Rachel Fuhrer held the songs down with a deep, pocket groove, winning the crowd’s affection as the set went on. Keep an eye on Ume. This is definitely a band to watch out for in the near future.
By the time Helmet took the stage, the venue was packed. Kicking things off with the slow, sludgy guitars of “Sinatra” from their 1992 debut, Strap It On, frontman (and sole original member) Page Hamilton’s vocals were pretty rough to say the least. As the set carried on, his voice warmed up, the band continued their aggressive, amelodic riffing and, unfortunately, the crowd started to get a bit too riled up. When the mosh pit turned into an all-out fight between two audience members just a few songs in, Hamilton did his best to calm the crowd with such poignant advice as, “No fighting. That’s weak. Happy? Good? Can’t everybody just get along?” Unfortunately, they couldn’t, as this was just the first scuffle of the night.
Once things settled down, the band got back to the music, rocking through deceptively catchy “Wilma’s Rainbow” off of 1994’s Betty, the more recent “White City” from 2010’s Seeing Eye Dog, “Blacktop” and, of course, “Unsung,” which, unsurprisingly, garnered the loudest applause from the audience. After a long set of heavy, straightforward riffing, Helmet closed out with “Milquetoast” which was arguably their strongest song of the night. Overall, the performance was solid if a bit monotonous with all of the incessant drop-D chugging.
At 10:45, as a rambling, out-of-tune rendition of Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” (best known as the opening song from 2001: A Space Odyssey) came over the PA system, the stage curtains opened and Toadies frontman Vaden Todd Lewis addressed the crowd. “You guys look like you’re in a good mood. Alright, let’s do this.” Launching right into the groovy “Backslider” from their debut album, Rubberneck, the band sounded incredible! Lewis’s vocals were pitch-perfect, guitarist Clark Vogeler’s sizzling lead lines cut through the mix like a hot knife and Doni Blair held down the low end with funky bass lines all while original drummer Mark Reznicek kept perfect time.
Wasting no time at all, the band performed “I Come From the Water,” leaving the chorus to the exuberant crowd. Switching to newer material, Lewis sang through a harmonica microphone for 2008’s “No Deliverance.” Current single, “Summer of the Strange” didn’t get as much crowd response, but the slinky, stoner harmonies made this one of my favorites of the night.
As the set carried on, Toadies continued on with their captivating mix of huge choruses, snarky lyrics and spot-on execution. Standouts included the hard-rocking “Push the Hand” from 2001’s Hell Below/Stars Above, “Happyface,” “Song I Hate” and the brand new, dark, dirty “Animals.” Finally, with a wink and smile to the rest of the band, Lewis began the opening riff of “Possum Kingdom” to the crowd’s delight. After all these years, the song still carries the same infectious energy, though, with great performances of so many other songs, I’d venture to say that it was not the highlight of the set. As the song came to a close, the band bowed to one another, and as expected, the crowd went absolutely nuts.
Carrying the energy over, Toadies launched into another crowd favorite, “Tyler,” only to stop mid-song as a fight broke out. Lewis was not happy. Pointing at the offender, he announced, “that dipshit right there ruined the song!” Just as it seemed things were getting under control, another, larger fight broke out, causing the band to leave the stage, threatening to end the show. After a few minutes, Toadies returned and Lewis informed the crowd that fighting, “really bums me out...we’re gonna get along. Let’s have fun for fuck’s sake! Come on!”
The band finished the set with a complete version of “Tyler,” “Rattler’s Revenge” from their new record Play.Rock.Music., and brought the night to a close by inviting the drummers from both opening bands in addition to their roadie onstage for an amazing rendition of Rubberneck’s closing track, “I Burn.”
With low expectations going in, I was pleasantly surprised by this show. Despite the fights that broke out throughout the night, it was a really good time! Ume was a great discovery, Helmet was decent and Toadies knocked it out of the park.