Recently, I was gently reminded that the Toadies have a new album out, called Play.Rock.Music.. I listened to the album a couple times and tried to wrap my head around it. I waited for something to grab me: A hook, a melody. Instead, I found myself wincing. I couldn't bring myself to engage in the music. I was underwhelmed.
As a base critical instinct, I suppose I wanted to rip it apart. As a "rock" record, Play.Rock.Music. is fairly unimaginative. The Toadies' sound has not really progressed beyond those same razzy guitar riffs and bottom-feeding basslines that informed 1994's Rubberneck. After a third spin, I asked myself, This album is awful, right?
But then I saw the eyes peering at me in the darkness. Lots of them. People in Dallas still really love the Toadies, as the hordes descending on New Braunfels for Dia Del Los Toadies last weekend can attest. I can't fault them for having a devoted fan base, but I was miffed as to why such a middling band is roped off like a museum piece we can't touch. I asked a colleague what would happen if I gave the Toadies a bad review: "You'd probably get death threats." Intriguing. But why?
This left me thinking about the idea of institutional nostalgia, this idea that the Toadies, a band many people immediately think of when they think Dallas in the '90s, are the de facto sacred cow of that golden era. Every city has the band they still cling to. It's part of every scene's good old days rewards program. But what's the reward, actually? That twinge of nostalgia for those days? And is that comfortable bookmark of an era considered progress?
In Austin a few weekends ago, I was slapped by that phantom limb of nostalgia as I drove down Red River, thinking about the shows I saw on that strip over the years. The drive now feels like a tour of empty shrines; many of the clubs are gone or filled with new businesses. I thought about a quote attributed to Lou Reed: "I don't like nostalgia unless it's mine."
As someone who didn't grow up in Dallas, or even Texas, in the '90s, I obviously don't have this same ironclad regional devotion to the Toadies. Are they gaining new fans with Play.Rock.Music.? Does a 21-year-old care about the Toadies? Does a 40-year-old who didn't grow up with them? Or are they selling strictly to those same people who saw them at Trees 15 years ago?
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Another colleague, when asked why Dallas has this love affair with nostalgia, put it this way:
"It's so weird that the addiction to nostalgia even exists here, because in so many ways, we are willing to neglect the old. We will tear buildings down. We don't protect our history the way some cities do, and maybe we don't have to. It's not like we're one of the original 13 colonies. The one silver lining to that attitude is [Dallas] should be a hotbed of experimentation."
Of course it should be. And I think there are pockets of that right now, in music, art and beyond. I'm not saying Toadies are what's wrong with Dallas -- they're trying to make a living like every other band. There is value in nostalgia, but only if we use it to progress somehow.
I went back and listened to Play.Rock.Music. again last night, trying to find something that would sway my line of questioning, make me stumble upon some great cosmic truth about the Toadies. I'm still searching.