Just as any holiday isn’t accepted locally until it has its own parade down State Street, no Santa Barbara theater has been truly baptized until Toad the Wet Sprocket has graced its stage. Even though the local folk-rock luminaries haven’t released a studio album for more than a decade, the respect the collective still receives is undeniable. So with the doors to the refurbished Granada Theatre having been open for almost a year, the time seemed perfect for this sparkling cultural center to welcome in one of its own. And Friday night’s Unity Shoppe benefit provided the perfect opportunity.
As the house lights dimmed and the red velvet curtain parted, the growl of guitars and pounding drums was met with a thunderous welcome from the at-capacity audience. After momentarily surveying his surroundings, lead singer Glen Phillips closed his eyes, leaned back, and eased his ensemble into a set full of shimmering pop classics. While what we saw might be considered an enthralling musical snapshot, Toad’s execution of their considerable musical catalogue was both vibrant and faultless.
As fate should have it, this performance came just one night after Phillips gave his new musical collective (Works Progress Administration) their public debut in Los Angeles. And having meticulously crafted a series of dynamic and diverse solo recordings since Toad’s last studio visit, Phillips appeared to slip effortlessly back into the guise of a rock ‘n’ roll frontman. And with the musical spark between Phillips, Todd Nichols, Dean Dinning, and Randy Guss still shining, the songs seemed to be received just as easily as they flowed.
While it was the hits that the audience devoured-“All I Want,” “Fall Down,” and “Walk on the Ocean” were all met with rapturous applause-songs like “Windmills” and “Brother” clearly presented the deepest emotional resonance. Originating in a period of time when their contemporaries were defining passion by distorted guitars and angst-filled lyrics, these two compositions, fueled simply by sublime lyrical beauty, prove that heartfelt songwriting is indeed timeless.
Many bands have discovered that the combination of time and distance to new material can be a difficult road to navigate. But this Friday’s show taught us that performing is still an easy right of passage for Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Also on the bill was the Washington native, and now Fullerton-based, Tyrone Wells. And while the format for the evening afforded only a brief opportunity to sample Wells’s brand of soul-baring, guitar-driven contemporary rock, a forthcoming album launch at SOhO on January 28 will surely allow Santa Barbarans the perfect opportunity to enjoy a more complete setlist.