Friday, September 14, 2007

Toadstool - The Sun Highway

Toadstool was a Minneapolis based trio of John Joyce (bass, vocals), Scott Sherman (drums), and Brad White (guitars, vocals). The band's first album, The Sun Highway, was produced by Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner, which is probably what drew my attention to them in the first place. The band's overall sound is similar to Soul Asylum in certain respects, but with a much stronger leaning towards the blues, and far more abstract lyrics. At the time it was released, I was impressed enough with the album to book the band to play at my college. They ended up playing on a double bill with Skin Yard in the Fall of 1990. Unfortunately, the show was far less successful in terms of attendance than I hoped it would be. But despite playing for a crowd of about 50 people, Toadstool rocked the Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium right down to the freakin' ground.

I think the show was sparsely attended in part due to bad timing on my part, I foolishly scheduled it too close to midterms. Apparently many of my classmates thought their time was better spent studying than rocking out. Actually, most of them were probably at frat parties. (At the time, I remember seeing a sign that advertised a frat party with the promise that "Toadstool will not be there!" One year later these same dim wits would be blasting Nirvana at their lame ass parties, claiming they always liked this kind of music.)

Obviously Toadstool never went on to scale the multi-platinum commercial heights that Nirvana reached. Actually, that is about as big an understatement as a person can make: according to their label The Sun Highway "sold 434 vinyl albums, 322 cassettes and 643 CDs in the first two years of release." Ouch. They never released another album, and The Sun Highway has been out-of-print for years.

So maybe those idiot frat boys were right all along. Maybe I was the idiot for booking Toadstool in the first place. Going back and listening to this album again after not having heard it for a long time, I don't think that is the case. No, Toadstool was not as great as Nirvana or their Minneapolis compatriots Soul Asylum. (I didn't think they were at the time, but they were a lot cheaper to book, believe me.) But this is solid stuff, delivered with a lot of passion and a surprising amount of skill. The Sun Highway is a very promising debut album, and it's easy to imagine the band having gone on to bigger and better things, even if that's not the way it worked out. The Sun Highway is positively bursting with ideas, and while not all of them work, it's still an engaging listen 17 years later.

"Last Thing Right" and "Dreams Rust" were the two songs from the album I played the most at the time, and they still sound like the best tracks to my much older ears. I remember thinking at the time that the band sounded far better live than they did on record. Too bad they didn't stick around long enough for a follow up. I think they were onto something.

Like Jonathan Richman's Rockin' and Romance, The Sun Highway is available as a custom burned CD from Twin/Tone. If you are still considering ordering Rockin' and Romance (and you should be if you haven't done so already), and want to add another CD to your order to make the shipping charge less painful, you could do a lot worse than The Sun Highway.

The Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium has never been the same.

8 comments:

adam said...

What I remember most about the show was Toadstool pulling up to the auditorium 2 hours late and clearly drunk, lugging what looked to be homemade amps up on the stage and absolutely rocking.

Skin Yard, with its Seattle pedigree was the main attraction, but all I remember from the evening is Toadstool.

Pete Bilderback said...

I had forgotten Toadstool's amps. They did seem like they were soldered together in somebody's garage.

The thing I remember best about Skin Yard was Barrett Martin's drumming. I think he was pretty psyched to be playing in a bigger auditorium instead of a club. He would toss his drum sticks high in the air (almost hitting the ceiling of ATS) and catch them on the beat. It was kinda heavy metal showoffy, but it was cool nonetheless.

Toadstool stayed with you guys, so I didn't see much of them. Skin Yard stayed at my place. They were all surprisingly nice, normal guys.

Anonymous said...

It's great to see that I wasn't the only person on Earth that liked this band. I bought the vinyl AND the cd ...

I was glad to see that they even released a 7" (Nothing But Teeth), although it's not as good as the album!

Cheers!
Brutally Frank

no said...

And it's great to see that I and a lot of other guys from my hometown here in the Netherlands were not alone when we bought the CD and vinyl issue as well...
After a long time I wanted to listen to it again and decided to rip it to my laptop. Looking for the cover art I came across this page. Thanks.
I absolutely love this CD. It's rawness and hunted feeling still thrill me after all these years. Burnt offering is still the the song REM would have loved to write in their good years but never succeeded in. One of my all time favorites.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're not the only one who thought you were crazy for liking that band... I played in it. And yes, we fell through the cracks, never got very far, and I only vaguely remember that show as it was near the end of a 6 week tour. We did have a good trip though, played well and came together as a band. At home it was never so easy with drugs and bs tearing everyone in different directions, but on the road it was good. I played in another band for years and you can contact me on facebook (brad white: france network) and I'll try to get you a cd.

Anonymous said...

They were great. My friends and I (in Minneapolis) played The Sun Highway around the clock in the summer of 1990. I have a cassette and CD version.

Anonymous said...

I always kinda wondered who bought the other 321 cassettes...

Brian K said...

I was one who bought one of the cassettes. I saw them in Milwaukee at The Unicorn ( I think) and bought the tape. Don't remember who they played with or when. Possibly they played with Johny and The Losers or Mothers Room of Milwaukee, maybe with Rebel Waltz from Oshkosh. The tape started to go bad at some point but I dubbed to another tape before it went completely bad. I just came across the dub the other day. I listened to this a lot at the time and over the years. For some reason I thought they were from Boston, maybe becaust later on Buffalo Tom reminded me of Toadstool. Saw Soul Asylum a few times in those days in MKE. Both times they got completely blown away by the other band or bands. Once it was with Living Color, who completely destroyed them- Soul Asylum may as well have just gone home after Living Color played- pretty much everybody else did. Also with Husker Du and I think Die Kreuzen on the same bill. Needless to say both of those bands blew Soul Asylum away. Got to see Die Kreuzen 3 times this summer in MKE, Madison and Green Bay and then declared them the greatest band ever. Well, memory of those days is a bit fuzzy so if someone remembers more about the Toadstool show or these Soul Asylum shows in MKE please fill in the blanks.