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.