The album Lower Side of Uptown, released on September 8, 2017, is the latest from the Toadies. They kicked off the supporting tour Wednesday, September 6, 2017, in Denton Texas. Regional Music Journal had the opportunity to hear the new album and see the band perform on the second night of their tour, at the Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma City. Before hitting the road, bassist Doni Blair took the time to speak to us about the new album, new tour and his new book Even if it Kills Me.
The new release, Lower Side of Uptown, is one of those albums that grabs your attention as soon as the first song starts, and keeps you mesmerized throughout. The heavy, driving beats, deep bass lines, searing guitars and Vaden Lewis’ powerful vocals are signature Toadies with an innovative edge. The previous album from the band, Heretics, was released in 2015 and was a rearranging of songs from earlier albums, along with two original tracks, a previously unreleased track written for the album Feeler and a cover of the 1979 Blondie hit “Heart of Glass”. We asked Doni Blair about recording entirely new material for the first time in five years (since Play.Rock.Music in 2012)
“We didn’t go into the studio with a set plan,” Blair explained. After five years the band was ready to get back in the studio but they didn’t want to limit themselves or set constraints on the new music. The result is a set of songs with rich layers, heavy driving rhythms, brilliant guitar solos and dynamic vocals.
During the interview, we spoke with Blair about the band’s songwriting process and he told us about their collaborative approach. Blair wrote a song for the album, “it was an instrumental, but it wasn’t included on the album, that was my call. Vaden told me he thought I was making a mistake, but it didn’t fit with the rest of the album.” While the Lower Side of Uptown doesn’t contain Blair’s instrumental, his skills on the bass make a big impact throughout the entire album. The Toadies have a signature sound yet remain a creative force with original songwriting. When it comes to managing between creative freedom and expectations for the music, Blair made it clear that the band focuses on creating a good album.
Opening track “When I Die” immediately assaults your ears with a blistering guitar, accompanied by a churning, heavy rhythm. Lewis’ pleading vocals compliment the music and adds to the signature Toadies sound. The heavy style continues throughout the album on tracks such as “Take Me Alive”, “Polly Jean”, “You Know the Words” and the first single “Broke Down Stupid”. The album marks a departure from the softer, acoustic sound of Heretics and a return to the heavy rock music prevalent in their earlier work.
The second single from the album, “Mama Take Me Home”, showcases the dynamic elements found in the Toadies music. The song starts with the soft strumming of a guitar and Lewis’ soothing vocals. The tempo fluctuates throughout the song and ultimately settles into the hard, driving rhythm found in other songs on the album. Other stand out tracks include “Human Cannonball”, “Sentimental” and “I Put a Spell on You”.
The cover of Jay Hawkins 1956 classic “I Put a Spell on You” isn’t the first time the band has included a cover on one their albums. In 2015, they covered Blondie’s 1979 hit “Heart of Glass” and made the song their own by creating a beautifully haunting rendition. The same is true for their take on “I Put a Spell on You”. We asked Blair about the track and how the band chooses a song to cover. “That was Clark’s (Vogeler) idea, and Vaden did his thing and killed it.” Lewis’ unique vocals are perfect for this song and added the right amount of emotion to the track.
(Left to Right) The Normandys, Local H and Toadies performing at Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma City 9/7/17 – Photos courtesy Shane Loudon Photography
When the band hit the Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma City on the second night of their tour, they were met by a crowd full of Toadies fans ready to hear some new music. Tulsa punk band The Normandys kicked off the evening with an amazing performance and got the crowd ready for Local H who took the stage before the Toadies. Local H sounded incredible as they worked their way through their set. Finally, the Toadies took the stage and had one of the best performances the Diamond Ballroom has seen all year.
During the band’s set in Oklahoma City, fans were given the opportunity to hear several songs from Lower Side of Uptown, and they were thrilled with the new material. The band not only performed the opening track “When I Die”, but they also performed “Take Me Alive”, “Polly Jean”, “You Know the Words” and the first single from the album “Broke Down Stupid”. Blair told us, “we’re not one of those bands who play just a couple of songs from the new album”. Fans got to hear a good sampling of the new material, and judging from the response, the Toadies have created an amazing piece of work.
Throughout the show they played a mixture of new and old material. Fans sang along to classics like “Away”, “Quitter”, “I Come From the Water” and “Possum Kingdom” from the 1994 release Rubberneck. Other classics included “Push the Hand”, “Jigsaw Girl” and “Hell Below / Stars Above” from the 2001 album Hell Below / Stars Above. They included a few songs from more recent albums, such as “Summer of the Strange” from Play.Rock.Music and “Song I Hate” from Deliverance. The band ended the night with an encore performance that was wrapped up with the song “Tyler” from Rubberneck.
Fans were excited when the band broke into material from the new album. Blair told us the new songs were being received well by audiences, and that was definitely the case in Oklahoma City. It was obvious the crowd was eager to see the band and hear the new music; leading up to the Toadies taking the stage, the merch line remained long with fans picking up shirts, albums and other merchandise.
The Toadies will tour North America throughout the remainder of 2017, with opening act Local H. According to Blair, the band is excited to have Local H as their opener. One important stop on the tour will be on Saturday, September 16, for the tenth annual Dia de los Toadies. The festival will be returning to Possum Kingdom Lake in Graford Texas, and includes a lineup of bands who have played at previous festivals. This year will see, Local H, Riverboat Gamblers, The O’s, Oil Boom, Quiet Company, Baboon and Ting Tang Tina. Blair told us the band Ting Tang Tina is fronted by Vaden Lewis’ daughter Ruby Lewis. “Vaden makes her work for it,” Blair told us regarding the younger Lewis’ band, “Ruby sings her ass off”. She has picked up a lot from her talented father and the appearance at this year’s festival will offer her band greater exposure.
In addition to the new album and tour, Doni Blair is about to release his first book, Even if it Kills Me. The book chronicles the bassist’s journey to earn his black belt in taekwondo. Blair was always into kung fu movies and took up taekwondo as a child, however, he stopped taking lessons when he was ten. As a way of dealing with aging, Blair challenged himself to return to taekwondo and earn his black belt. When asked what made him decide to write a book, Blair told us, “it was actually my wife”.
Blair had written articles for martial arts magazines and with his wife’s support he decided to take the time to tell his story. But the path to his black belt took three years and resulted in a lot of ice and bruises for the bassist. He still trains and he told us, “I’ve taken up Brazilian jiu jitsu”. At the urging of a friend he decided to try jiu jitsu and has continued with further training. According to the press release, the book is “humorous, introspective and irreverent”. The release date is October 1, 2017; however, you can pick up a copy of the book at the Toadies’ merch table during concerts.
With the release of Lower Side of Uptown and the subsequent tour, the Toadies will be busy throughout the remainder of 2017. We asked Blair if the band was planning to tour in 2018, and he said, as of this time, they had not looked at touring next year. The new album is a must have for Toadies fans and highly recommended for rock music lovers. Look for tour dates on the Toadies website and get a copy of the new album.
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