The threatening skies over Kent held off just long enough to have a clear evening leading up to show time. The downtown area surrounding The Kent Stage was already abuzz with early fans waiting to see Toad the Wet Sprocket in their original glory. In the years since their prominence in the ’90s, the enduring foursome have continued to periodically travel and pack venues to maximum capacity, and tonight is no exception.
The sold-out crowd was first greeted by the impressionable talents of Megan Slankard, joined on stage by Adam Nash on slide/rhythm guitar and percussion. The San Francisco duo brightened early concert-goers with friendly and inviting banter and an acoustic guitar style that combined the flair of modern Nashville with radio-friendly folk rock. Her powerful voice blended country soul with distinct clarity that gave each song a certain strength and personal touch.
In a touching moment, Megan and Adam paid special tribute to Aretha Franklin and celebrated her legacy by performing an intimate rendition of I Say a Little Prayer. The Toad fans in the audience really appreciated her expressive and energetic style, and were brought to their feet several times during her set to praise her outstanding gifts. Megan’s performance captured the attention of the crowd and provided the necessary shot of energy in preparation for the coming of Toad.
After a moving audio tribute to The Queen of Soul on an empty stage, Toad the Wet Sprocket stepped out to bring the same love to the capacity crowd. Joining lead vocalist Glen Philips at the front stage mics was Todd Nichols on guitar and Dean Dinning on bass. Atop the back risers was long-standing support from Jonathan Kingham on keyboards, mandolin, and lap steel guitar (you may remember him from our coverage of Glen’s solo show last year at Cleveland’s Music Box) and a talented stand-in drummer Josh Daubin, who looks like a more handsome, better-coiffed Bo Burnham.
Glen — with his trademark bare feet — remarked that he and the band were glad to be back in Kent again. Even though it’s been about seven years since the last time the full band was in town, Glen mentioned he’d usually visit during his solo tours in the winter, with the cold snow and no one walking around. But now, in the summer, “it’s a different place, it’s green, there are people. You tricked me!”
Toad started their set with This Moment from their latest release, New Constellation, a great example of the modern approach to their classic style, with signature harmonizing and an upbeat and catchy chorus. From there, they rolled into a trio of songs through their decorated ’90s catalog: endearing Crowing from Dulcinea; Whatever I Fear, the energetic opener from Coil; and then a crowd-rising sing along of their breakout hit from Fear, All I Want. They even featured a duo of their more memorable songs from In Light Syrup: Good Intentions, the irresistible tale of poor choices and bad experiences, and the uplifting and heartfelt Brother. Before long, the entire crowd finally got out of their seats and started rocking out on their feet.
The bulk of their set list covered their current sound from the New Constellation and Architect of the Ruin releases, including Architect of the Ruin, Golden Age, Enough, and their ode to the west coast, California Wasted. They still capture the chemistry that makes their songs connect so well with their fans. Their sound keeps the core elements of inspired and emotional songwriting, infectious pop phrasing, and harmonic depth, but now with a modern polish and process.
They also offered a large selection from their standout albums from the ’90s, Fear and Dulcinea. Within the first few notes of each song, the individual reaction from the die-hards in the crowd was incredible to behold. It remains their strongest musical work and is home to many fan favorites, like Windmills, Fly From Heaven, and Nightingale Song. They closed out the night with the big riff energy of Fall Down, and rewarded the cheering crowd for an encore with two of their biggest hits, Something’s Always Wrong and Walk on the Ocean.
But the crowd wasn’t made up completely of die-hard fans; there were some newcomers as well. Before the show began, a gentleman and his wife took their seats next to us and asked if we knew “whether the bands tonight are any good.” He admitted he’d never heard of either act, but I assured him he’d most certainly heard several Toad songs over the years. So what brought them to the show? Well, the answer will rekindle your faith in the goodness of humanity. Earlier that day, the gentleman inadvertently met Glen at a pizza shop. When Glen realized he’d forgotten his wallet, the gentleman graciously paid for him, and Glen gave him two tickets to the show in return.
Since Toad’s reunion, they have achieved a renewed success that few could have predicted. After reclaiming songs from their early catalog with All You Want in 2011, and the vinyl reissues of Fear and Dulcinea, they released New Constellation independently as a crowdfunded project on their own label. Toad the Wet Sprocket is poised to continue bringing their stories to the world long into the foreseeable future, and we can only hope they will choose to do so.
After releasing two new albums in two years, Matthew Sweet and his trusted musical crew of Ric Menck on drums, Paul Chastain on bass, and John Moremen on solo guitar made their way back to Cleveland and ready to bring tunes from Tomorrow Forever and Tomorrow’s Daughter to the masses.
During our interview with Matthew for his last visit to Cleveland, he mentioned that this latest batch of songs could be more than just one album, with a possible bonus disc of demos. Considering the energetic burst of writing and recording that Matthew’s done since his move back to Nebraska and re-establishing his home studio, it carries little surprise that there were enough complete extras to form another full album.
The songs from Tomorrow’s Daughter and last year’s crowdfunded release, Tomorrow Forever, mark a new creative milestone in Matthew’s musical journey and certainly his most prolific and exciting period of songwriting since the Altered Beast period. The plethora of B-sides, demos, and live cuts, along with the Son of Altered Beast EP could equal out to a full album worth of material. With Tomorrow’s Daughter, it’s like getting all those hidden gems in one package. Don’t think that these songs wouldn’t have the same quality as the songs that were chosen for Tomorrow Forever; they definitely merit a separate release as a complementary volume to this musical chapter. It’s better to have a full album like Daughter than to let these songs never get heard.
Matthew and the band started the evening with Time Capsule, one of his most popular tunes from the critically-acclaimed Altered Beast. The connection with fan base from the Girlfriend and Altered Beast anniversary tours showed that his most popular albums from the early-to-mid-’90s still have a lasting impression with fans. Matthew’s live set is best-known for heavy hitters like Girlfriend, Evangeline and I’ve Been Waiting, and heartfelt ballads like Winona and The Devil With The Green Eyes, which blend beautifully with the raw sound of his current releases.
For the next song, he launched into Byrdgirl from 2010’s Sunshine Lies. It’s a treat to hear rare songs that don’t often appear live on stage. These deep cuts and personal faves perfectly bind the current vibe of the new songs with the classic Girlfriend guitar rock that signifies Matthew’s sound. He still includes songs from the fantastic 100% Fun like We’re The Same and Sick of Myself with multiple fake-out big rock endings to keep the crowd going for more.
Following that, the band kicked off with Pretty Please from Tomorrow Forever, a stomping rhythm rocker that recalls the attacking riff style of Altered Beast and Kimi Ga Suki Raifu. The Tomorrow Forever songs really match well with big hits and crowd pleasers from Matthew’s vast catalog. Songs like Trick bring back the hook-laden power pop of 100% Fun, with an interesting mix of slower songs that show a deeper and darker side to Matthew’s songwriting. Songs in the set like The Searcher from Tomorrow Forever, with its Dinosaur Act pedal feedback leading into the drifty sway of the ocean, and Show Me from Tomorrow’s Daughter, keep an even driving rock beat with the emotional and down tempo feel.
Throughout the evening, the entire group delivered the goods with a cool and relaxed spirit, and it seemed that Matthew’s performance was more at ease than in previous years. The torch bearers for the ’70s stadium guitar power pop of Cheap Trick, Big Star and ELO are few and far between in today’s music environment, but Matthew’s enduring style evokes their energy in ever evolving ways. Now that he can produce music independently with the support from his devoted and generous fans, he has no reason to hold back on his next creative effort. The next era of Matthew Sweet has a lot to offer, and it’s guaranteed to rock.
Best known for his talents as the lead singer and songwriter of Toad The Wet Sprocket, Glen Phillips has continued to perform as an independent artist focused on honest storytelling and compelling songwriting. The latest stop on tour in support of his latest album, Swallowed by the New, was to a packed but chilly crowd at Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club. The biting cold and rain on a wintery March night couldn’t stop his passionate fans from sitting in on this show.
But first, wrapped in comfy scarf, blue dress and rose cowboy boots, Amber Rubarth took the stage and warmed up the icy crowd with a selection of acoustic numbers. The comforting blend of indie country and folk rock from her upcoming new album Wildflowers in the Graveyard were lovely and her light, soft voice captured the intimacy and strength of her songs. Even her gentle spin on REM’s Losing My Religion recast the classic song in a new light. Later in the set, the crowd got a preview of Glen Phillips as he joined Amber onstage for a stirring guitar and vocal duet. Amber will be returning next month for the Cleveland International Film Festival in support of her starring role in the movie “September 12th.” The film discusses people’s compassion and coming together following the events of September 11th. Amber and co-star Joe Purdy will perform after the screening in Tower City on April 1st and 3rd.
Glen Philips was excited to finally feel better for once. After just getting over a recent bout of sickness, he was finally able to let loose, bringing smiles and laughs to the crowd and his friends onstage. Joined by talented musicians/songwriters Amber Rubarth and fellow Toad collaborator Jonathan Kingham, Glen featured a majority of the tracks from Swallowed by the New, while taking time to weave their stories and settings between songs. At one point, he told the story of how Baptistina was named for the original source of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, only to find out the source was later disproven.
Even though Phillips’ songs are emotional, the night was filled with fun and good spirits. His priceless reaction after his mention that the tour would be ending in Pittsburgh the following night was met with jeers and boos. “Is it a sports thing?” he asked innocently, before getting briefly educated about the infamous rivalry between the two cities. He started a new song, only to stop and remark, “You know, back in the day, this kind of hate was reserved for someone else breaking into your town and stealing all your sheep or something.”
The standout moment of the night belonged to Jonathan Kingham. Before turning the stage over to Kingham for a song, Phillips asked the crowd what they wanted to hear him play. Unanimously, we voted for “funky freestyle,” which Kingham obliged with a solo acoustic version of Every Little Step by Bobby Brown, complete with dance breakdown and off-the-dome freestyle lyrics. Bars included having the meatsweats from his pre-show shortrib dinner, and apologizing to the guy stage right for having to pay full price for a seat with a direct view of his ass all night. “You won’t normally see that at a Glen Phillips show!” he quipped at song’s end.
Glen’s voice is still as distinct and expressive as ever, with touching and tragic lyrics about love, loss, faith, his divorce, and hope combined with his signature folk-inspired songwriting. Even while Glen admitted on stage that “my songs are mainly about how sad I am,” each song of the evening’s set illustrated a wide range of feeling: from the forlorn lighthouse love song in the album’s opening song Go — which muses that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to let them go — to the closing inspirational, stomping, hymnal chorus of Held Up. Glen also played several popular songs and fan favorites from his Toad The Wet Sprocket years, including All I Want, Walk On The Ocean, and an encore crowd request of Crowing that got the room singing along and ended the evening on a high note.
With an amazing career spanning 30 years, Matthew Sweet has been the answer when it comes to guitar-driven power pop. His breakthrough records from the early 1990s, like Girlfriend, Altered Beast and 100% Fun, highlight the chord-ripping rock and endearing songwriting that set his style apart in the era of “alternative” music, much like Elvis Costello’s emergence parallel to the eruption of British punk in the 1970s. Like a true artist, he has continued to write, perform and collaborate on an astounding number of projects through the years — and shows no signs of slowing down yet. Matthew talked with Blown Speakers before visiting Cleveland on his current tour of the Northeast U.S., and discussed his next album, Tomorrow Forever, among other things.
Matthew Sweet: The whole thing is recorded. I still have to mix it, and I have to figure out what makes the album and what happens with the rest of the songs. I recorded 38 songs for it, so I’m going to try to figure out what the main album is.
There’s supposed to be a bonus disc that some people pledged for, and that was going to be demos, but given the time frame and I got started a little late, I mostly just made real recordings, so that bonus thing will also be full of studio songs.
Were there any direct influences that were drawing themselves out while you were making the new album?
MS: That’s hard to say. I think that it really just came from me. I’ve moved from living in a new place, and it’s kind of on its own steam. I wouldn’t say there was something I was particularly listening to or wanting it to be like. I just started picking ideas and doing it like I normally do, which is a little bit mysterious. I store up short minute long ideas or something. When I go through my day before I’m making a record, I’ll occasionally record little things and then save them up, or if I have nothing I’ll make them up that day or whatever when I need them. But somehow once they’re that little thing, it’s like the seed of what it’s going to be, and it just sort of becomes that. I just trust that it will and then it’s like magic or something.
I didn’t do a lot of thinking about what I wanted it to be like, but it has a wide range of stuff on it and I did try to make sure it has lots of different types of songs. For instance, I recorded it in three batches, and I think that the first batch had a variety of things, and then the second batch was a little more power-pop, and then the third batch was really slow, moodier type of stuff. But that’s the most I thought about it. I was like, ‘Well, I want to make sure I have slow stuff,’ you know?
Has being back in your old home state influenced the album, like how you were saying about a move back and everything?
MS: Well I guess your house and where you live is the most solid thing. I mean, for me, in my life, it doesn’t matter where I am in terms of doing music. I can do what I do anywhere, and I have. I’ve lived a lot of places, but there’s something about when you’re settling in and you have that comfort of your own space, and I think that did factor in somehow.
I grew up in Lincoln, and so Omaha’s really a bigger city than I grew up in. Although, Lincoln’s a good size, I mean the University of Nebraska’s there, it’s only fifty miles away from here. But it has been cool to connect to how I felt when I was really young. I’ve always been bad with remembering what all happened when I was little. I’d meet other people throughout the years who I grew up with, and I always felt like they remembered all the stuff, but I just didn’t remember it exactly. And there is a little bit of that being here — that I just can feel like I’m more connected with that part of my life. So there is something weirdly comforting about that.
Do you still have the home studio in your new place? How was it moving everything to a new location?
MS: I do. Well, that’s cool, too, to have a new room that I work in. I’ve never had a pro studio set up at home in terms of like “the room.” I’ve never built a room to be a studio. It was funny because when I sold my place in Los Angeles, it got in local papers and online, and it said I sold my home ‘with recording studio,’ but there was really no recording studio in it, except my gear being in one of the rooms of the house. And that’s really the same way it is here, but our new place had a really good room for me to do music in, so it’s always fun being in a new space doing that. It has been cool setting up my studio and making it my own sort of vibe.
You’re hitting the road in September. This will be your second time coming through Cleveland in two years. What is it that keeps you coming back to this area and do you have any favorite moments or memories about playing in Cleveland?
MS: I feel like there must’ve been a time where we didn’t come as much, and then we started coming more often a few years ago. I mean, back in the day, we came there and there were always great rock crowds, and we played a lot of different places that had different vibes and stuff.
Then we played the Beachland a few times over the last few years, and that was when we really started playing Cleveland again. We played there a few times, and then we played the Music Box, and we had a great time there. It’s a really nice venue, and spacious, and has a really good backstage and stuff. I have positive memories of it, so it’s comfortable.
But in general, Cleveland, it’s such a great music city and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there, and I have some history with it. I had a really cool moment in my career when we got to play at an opening of the John Lennon exhibit that Yoko Ono curated in there in 2000. Two or three bands played at it, and we were able to meet Yoko and have her sign our little books at the exhibit. It was up in this room where they had a lot of John’s handwritten lyrics on walls. So that was a trip and is a cool memory from being around there. It’s always been a rock and roll town so it makes sense that it would be a place good for me.
Your songs have been used in a lot of popular movie soundtracks from the 90s and on. Has anyone asked you to write a film score or perform a complete film soundtrack, like Prince on the Batman soundtrack?
MS: Not really. I would’ve done it, I’m sure. I got close to that sort of thing. Unfortunately, when I probably could’ve done something like that easier was when my career was early enough in success. I was touring all the time and maybe didn’t have as much time to get into that sort of stuff. Later on, I’ve never really concentrated on trying to change the kind of work I do because I just like being an artist and writing my own songs. But I’ve always felt like I could do it pretty easily. I guess the closest I got was a little bit of incidental music in Can’t Hardly Wait, the teen movie. I had a song on the soundtrack of it, but I ended up with a little bit of background music for it.
Are you still crafting pottery? Is the Lolina line still going on?
MS: It is, theoretically. I have all my stuff here and I actually have a small garage just for doing pottery in, but I haven’t really set it up and started doing it. It’s been kind of a long break for me but I am going to get it going sometime soon. I got embroiled in the album pretty quickly after we moved and I’ve only really been working on that. Some of the rewards from the Kickstarter campaign include 3-D printed things that I’m making. I’ve scanned from pieces of my pottery, like a cat head, and then use them in building the 3-D things. I’m also making a bronze cat sculpture as one of the things people could get as an incentive. To do that, I think I’m gonna carve it out of clay, and then we’ll make some sort of a mold from it, so I’ve got to get into some clay and get it going. I’m thinking sometime this fall is when I’ll actually get all that stuff rolling and get back on the wheel. Make some things to get myself going.
I think that doing pottery, the way I do it, it’s very self-taught. I’m not like a pro at doing it, it’s my own weird way. I learned just a little bit from others, but kind of like my guitar playing, I just kind of learned it on my own. It has this thing about it that’s kind of like music, which is why I like pottery. Where you can get lost in it, and it’s hard to imagine how you did it afterwards, for me. I listen to a song I’ve done and I can’t really imagine where it came from. It’s sort of like when I said magic, that’s sort of what I mean.
I’ve got several pieces around the house that we ended up keeping though a lot was made and sold. When I look at pottery that I made over a few years ago, I go, ‘How did I ever make that?’ It’s hard to imagine how I knew how to do it on the wheel. It’s different from music because it’s like a solid thing.
I think I will be able to just do it still. I think, in a weird way, maybe I’ll be better at doing it even though I didn’t do it during that time. You go back to a feeling, and if you can get in that kind of a meditative state where you lose yourself, you can do it. That’s when it works. You know, pottery is really weird. Some days it just seems like you can’t do it at all, even for people who are great at it. Some days it’s just not happening, something’s wrong, and then you get in that sort of zone, and it happens. I’m more used to creating that feeling with music and a lot less used to it with pottery, but I still have faith in that concept.
How do you feel about the Kickstarter approach and using this kind of method to connect with fans and get your work out?
MS: I like it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, and I talked about doing it for a long time before I ever did one. I can’t say whether I’ll always do it through Kickstarter. In a way, I feel like it would be hard to do it multiple times or something, but what it gets for me is this fire under me to really try to do something great. I’ve really tried to make it come to life in a strong way, and it’s afforded me more time to spend on recording and record more things just out of wanting it to be very special. Because it’s paid for by fans, I want them to really like it. The only way I really knew to make sure it’s especially good was to just record a lot of stuff and then pick the things that just work the best. That’s been great, although it’s making it a little harder to choose what the album is. I’m getting close to that.
I think the hardest thing about it is that it’s taken me so long to do, and some people get impatient about it, although the vast majority are just really great and supportive. I think that trying to stay super engaged with communicating and keeping everybody happy is something I’m not as good at. I’m a person who’ll decide one day, ‘I want to do Facebook,’ and I’ll do posts or I’ll get engaged, but then the next day, I have no urge to do it. I just know myself in this way that. That’s been the hardest thing, I think, between me and the Kickstarter, is me giving enough extra stuff because I’ve just been so focused on recording.
Having said that, people are great and it’s really fun to give a big update and tell them where I’m at. Last month, when I got done with all the rough mixes and everything was recorded that’s going to go on all the parts, it was fun to tell everybody, ‘Look, here’s where it is, and we can see light at the end of the tunnel now.’ I just have to get all the rewards going and mix it this fall and we’ll be good to go.
If there was a (purely hypothetical) biopic movie of your life coming out either this year or next year, who would you want to play your role, and who do you see playing any of the other guys in your band, like Ric (Menck) and Paul (Chastain)?
MS: Ha! This is great. I wish I had a couple days to think about this. There’s a guy who looks like I looked when I was young. People tell me, ‘That guy reminds me of you.’ To me, he’s much cooler than me, and also a really cool actor. His name is Michael Pitt. He played Jimmy Darmody, the young, up-and-coming bootlegger guy on Boardwalk Empire. We may not really look that much alike, but he’s cooler than me and somewhat similar.
He can play me, and then, god, who could be Menck? Who’s really tall? You need someone tall and skinny so that’s the actor. Paul would be a smaller guy. I don’t know, I just have to think a little bit more about casting those two because it would have to really be right. In a way, Steve Buscemi would be good as Ric, but he’s not tall enough and he’s too old to be with Michael Pitt. Meet the older and the youngers, you know? Buscemi has the personality that’s a little more like Ric. But no, it can’t be all people from Boardwalk Empire!
Concert/photo recap, Music Box Supper Club, Cleveland, 9.13.2016
Instead of bootlegged whiskey, Matthew Sweet has been chord-running an intoxicating collection of hits and fan favorites as his fall tour winds through the Midwest and toward the Atlantic coast. His visit to Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club proved to be another outstanding performance that his devoted listeners have come to love.
The night began with a rousing performance from Cleveland’s Chris Allen, known for his work in the bands Rosavelt and The Boys From County Hell. His brand of hard-strumming heartland rock with a subtle touch of Telecaster twang was a perfect match for the evening. Joined by Tom Prebish on bass, and Fred Perez-Stable on congas and percussion (instead of the usual drum kit because the kit couldn’t fit on stage in front of all of Sweet’s band’s gear), the trio delivered a strong, yet intimate set that included several Rosavelt favorites, like The Last Heartache and Perfect Girl.
Matthew Sweet arrived on stage to a packed seated house. As usual, he was joined by Ric Menck on drums and Paul Chastain on bass, both long-serving bandmates and the core duo of Velvet Crush, and featured the incredible non-stop talents of John Moremen on solo guitar.
Matthew’s set covered plenty of his popular singles, like Girlfriend, Sick of Myself, and Time Capsule, and also showcased signature tunes from his recent releases, such as Byrdgirl and She Walks The Night. By the end of the night, the crowd of steadfast fans in the audience got more hits and rock sweetness then they bargained for.
For more details on east coast tour dates and venues, and more news on the upcoming album, visit Matthew Sweet’s official website.
From the moment we entered the nostalgic flyer-covered walls of the Beachland Ballroom, it truly felt like stepping into an underground club from the 80s. The groove of DJ Party Sweat’s pulsating vinyl beats set the soundtrack before the ambient pop-noise stylings of Julian Lynch. His solo performance captured the early audience’s attention, with a whispered voice, multi-color guitar, and two briefcases stacked with effects and processors.
With their fourteenth studio album and a career that spans over thirty years, Wire has earned a no-nonsense reputation, especially when it comes to their stage performance. That level of respect for their craft is equally reflected by the devotion of the fans who filled the ballroom floor.
The front of the stage was a guitar and gear lover’s dream: from the massive Eastwood hollow-bodied twelve-string and streamlined Airline guitars in Colin Newman’s arsenal, to the artful pickguard on Graham Lewis’ souped-up bass, and the sea of unique effects pedals arranged in front of each member’s station. Wire’s embrace of technology has been their hallmark, and their growing cache of technological prowess continues to surprise their audiences.
Wire started their set with a pair of uptempo selections from their new self-titled album, Blogging and Joust and Jostle. Both tunes display the quick beats, angular chords, and short length that has become their signature style. The low-tone hook-laden punk sounds just as fresh as their classic album catalog.
Their set continued with more new material peppered with choice picks from recent albums like Stealth of a Stork and early work like Blessed State. The sonic showcases during Sleep-Walking and their final song Harpooned were fantastic to behold. Guitarist Matthew Simms’ technical musicianship and dexterity was on full display, with incredible feedback, synthesized solos, and brilliant electronic textures on his lefty Fender and lap slide guitars.
After a brief departure, they returned for a final encore kicked off with Adore Your Island from Change Becomes Us and closed out the night with more fan favorites, including a rare song from Pink Flag. Wire is known for not doing fan requests, but hopefully they’ll oblige to their great group of devotees and return to Cleveland on their next tour.