Show Review: Toad The Wet Sprocket, Hey Marseilles at The Fillmore, 7/23/10

by Dakin Hardwick on July 24, 2010

Seen Here: Toad. Not Pictured: Wet Sprocket. Also Missing: The part of my brain that would tell me not to make that joke

I have a live music bucket list. That is, I have a list of performers and bands that I would like to see before I or they die. This week has been pretty good for me, in terms of knocking things off that list, but I was really excited about the opportunity to see the first band to make that list. I believe I was 12 when I first heard “All I Want.” I was watching VH-1, as I did sometimes at that age, and thought that it was one of the coolest songs that I have ever heard. At that point, I decided that I needed to see them live, yet it somehow became a difficult task. They played often throughout my high school years, but broke up before I was able to see them. When they reunited, they local shows tended to be either very intimate (selling out super fast), at wineries that are unreachable by public transit, or opening for other bands (Counting Crows, Big Head Todd & The Monsters), and it just wasn’t plausible for me. But, with everything working out just right, I’ve finally accomplished this goal, nearly 18 years later.

Opening the show was a band called Hey Marseilles. Toad vocalist Glenn Phillips made reference during their set that they reminded him a bit of The Decemberists, which isn’t too far off the mark, but there is something Hey Marseilles that I enjoy so much more. They do a fascinating blend of chamber pop, folk music, and gypsy sounds that almost feels like Belle & Sebastian and Devotchka got together to form a supergroup.

Vocalist Matt Bishop has one of the most unique voices that I have heard in a long time. He seems to have a somewhat limited range in terms of notes on a scale, but counters that with his insane ability to cover the entirety of the emotive scale. He stayed nearly motionless throughout the majority of the set, aside from an instrumental piece where he joined drummer Colin Richey on percussion, but sang with such intensity that he was dripping with sweat by the end of the set.

Of course, the singer didn’t need to move around because the rest of the band was insanely frantic. Viola player Jacob Anderson was nearly impossible to photograph because he was a perpetual blur, and the rest of the band followed suit. They had an insane energy, and told some great stories about staying at a hotel in SF during a leather convention, and was all around a great set. I even caught more than a few 30- and 40- something year old Toad fans running to the merch table to pick up their record, and if you are getting that demographic to listen to something new, then you have done your job as opening band quite well.

After a brief set change (about 20 minutes, which is a record at The Fillmore), Toad The Wet Sprocket came out to a very sparse stage. Everyone had a single instrument, except Phillips, who had both an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. There was a single additional member sat in the back to play the lap slide and what appeared to be a Stratocaster mandolin, and that was the only thing extra on stage. There was no rack of spare instruments in the wings, or even really a guitar tech. It felt very casual, un-rock star like.

stratocaster mandolin? is that the name for this instrument?

They kicked things off with their MTV Buzz Bin classic, “Something’s Always Wrong.” The band was all smiles, and seemed genuinely happy to be playing. Phillip’s voice is still sounds has amazing as it did in the early 90’s, if not better. Bassist Dean Dining proved that he is still one of the most underrated bass players out there, plucking out some amazing low-end melodies on his 5-string fretless bass. The way his voices blends with guitarist Todd Nichols on back up vocals is even more intense and chilling in person than on record. Their deep voices make a great counterpoint to Phillip’s comparatively high pitched voice.

The majority of the main set was devoted to fan favorites and album cuts. And throughout the main set, nobody on stage stopped smiling for more than a few moments. I had a hard time believing that these guys seem to keep breaking up. They had such a great, silly rapport going with each other, and looked like they were loving every minute of it! About halfway through the set, Phillips joked out the unstable nature of the band, comparing their relationship to that of high schoolers that never can decide if they want to stay together, then him & Dinning procceeded to play an unplanned duet of Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited,” with the rest of the band trying hard to hold in the giggles. The “unplanned cover” song came up later on the set when Phillips started whistling Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5” while Nichols was tuning his guitar, prompting Dinning and drummer Randy Guss to join in for nearly a minute. The whole thing came to an end when Phillips started laughing, and then told the crowd that it is virtually impossible to whistle in front of an audience because you can’t not smile at a crowd, but you can’t whistle while smiling, and that we need to respect whistlers more because of the difficulty of their craft.

The band closed the set with the #1 Modern Rock charttopping double header of “All I Want” and “Fall Down.” The former song done with the audience taking the first verse and chorus, and Phillips singing the rest. The energy was blistering! These two track maybe two of the finest songs in the 90’s alt-rock cannon, and they played with pure heart.

The silly factor increased again for the encore. The bulk of the band did an improvised cover of The Tube’s “She’s A Beauty,” including Phillips and Dinning alternating leads, but Nichols seemed to be very embarassed. Phillips then said that the whole band loves The Tubes, causing Phillips to get very defensive and inform the crowd that he does not feel the same.

The show closed with a rousing, crowd pleasing sing along on “Walk On The Ocean.” Dinning made sure to apologize to the crowd for the long wait between San Francisco shows, and told us that they will be back sooner rather than later. I hope that they keep that promise.

Set List:

Somethings Always Wrong
Good Intentions
Is It For Me
Know Me
Nightingale Song
Come Back Down
Whatever I Fear
All I Want
Fall Down

Come Down
Walk On The Ocean

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