Live Review: Toad the Wet Sprocket at the Belly Up, August 9, 2014

Toad the Wet Sprocket
Photo by Webb Valarezo

When I first heard that Toad the Wet Sprocket were getting back together to release a new album after a 15 year-hiatus, I was a little worried.

A lot of bands come and go in a person’s lifetime, but Toad have remained the one band that I’ve kept my heart and soul firmly planted in for over 20 years. They left behind five beautifully crafted albums, each of which has acted as a guiding light and an oftentimes uncanny reflection of my own experiences and feelings.

Toad opening up their discography to breathe new life into it had me more than just a little worried — it had me scared. What if the new album was a huge disappointment and reeked of a worn-out band giving it one last go to cash in on ’90s nostalgia? Or what if this new album was really great and for some reason I still didn’t love it? Would that mean that I’d finally outgrown my favorite band?

Luckily the new album and my reaction to it have far exceeded my best expectations. New Constellation celebrates bliss, sorrow, and the way these two emotions can coexist under the right circumstances. This dichotomy runs throughout Toad’s work, but never before have they explored it with such clarity and confidence.

Toad the Wet Sprocket took their newly found sense of clarity and confidence to the Belly Up last Saturday night, opening their set with the new single “The Moment.” The song is a cautionary tale of sorts, warning the listener that all we have in life are moments and how much of a shame it is to waste them on regret. It was a nice reminder to stay present and let the moments happening onstage fully sink in.

One of the evening’s best moments came when Toad the Wet Sprocket put a bluegrass spin on the fan favorite “Nightingale Song.” With recently added fifth member Jonathan Kingham switching between mandolin and lap steel guitar throughout the night, Toad showed a new diversity to their live sound, oftentimes using this extra room to give nods to traditional American music. It was a pleasant surprise and a direction Toad the Wet Sprocket would do well to explore further if they decide to release another album.

The material from New Constellation sounded great, though it was a little disappointing that they didn’t play more of it. But it was still an enjoyable and well-rounded set that covered songs from all six of their albums including, per usual, their biggest hits “Walk on the Ocean,” “Fall Down,” and “All I Want.”

As the set went on and the night came to a close, I felt a deep sense of relief and gratitude knowing that my favorite band clearly has a lot of life left in it and will hopefully continue to release more new albums throughout the years.

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