Imagine starting a band in your early to mid-20s and keeping it going for 30 years. Your fantasy probably has a bunch of highs and lows, but does it also include headlining your own festival? Because that’s what the Toadies did, and they’re doing it again for the 10th year in a row. As amazing as that is for any band, for the Toadies, it’s a well-deserved second act in a career that almost never made it past their first album.
The 10th Dia de Los Toadies is on Saturday at Possum Kingdom Lake, the park from which the band’s career-making hit takes its name. Released in 1994 on Rubberneck, the Toadies’ major label debut, “Possum Kingdom” possesses a menacing swagger and creepy lyrics, sung by Lewis in his inimitable melodic snarl. The tune stamped a star next to their name on the mid-’90s alt-rock map and effectively put them on the road for the next three years. In ’97, they tracked Feeler, the follow-up to Rubberneck, with the Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary. In a tale of now-legendary record company incompetence, the Toadies’ label, Interscope, wasn’t feeling Feeler. The band went back to the studio and came out with 2001’s Hell Below/Stars Above. But due to what drummer Mark Reznicek refers to as “label woes and other legal hassles,” the band called it quits at the end of that year. At the time, fans assumed the Toadies were all done.
Turns out, they weren’t. They reunited for a Dallas St. Patrick’s Day party in 2006 and to play a mini-tour of Austin, Houston, and Dallas a year later.
“We remembered how much we enjoyed making music together again,” said Reznicek in an email. “So after a few phone calls and a little discussion, we were a full-time band again.”
Besides a performance at Lollapalooza in 2008, getting back together also included creating their own music festival. Held in August 2008 at Possum Kingdom Lake, Dia de Los Toadies was inspired by events like Willie Nelson’s annual July 4th Picnic.
“We had no idea whether it would go beyond the initial festival,” Reznicek said. “But once it proved successful, we were able to keep it going.” The first fest coincided with a new record, 2008’s No Deliverance, released on Dallas-based indie label Kirtland. It’s fitting, then, that the 10th annual show returns to the place that started it all at the same time the band is releasing its latest LP, The Lower Side of Uptown.
On the new LP, the Toadies are back to doing what they do best: heavy, lurching, riff-rock built on chunky guitars and cockeyed time signatures. Lewis said the title comes from a line in album opener “When I Die.”
“It’s a reference to the back door or alleyway behind heaven,” he said.
Tracks like “Take Me Alive” and “Polly Jean” will be familiar from live shows. On the record, they hit just as hard as they do blasting out of a concert P.A. Some of the songs were mostly ready before the recording sessions, but Lewis credits producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith for helping them shape what he calls “the riff pile.”
Though they are chugging across the country in support of The Lower Side of Uptown, on Saturday, they’ll be more than stoked to hold the home court.
“It feels great that we’re still able to release new music and tour the country,” Reznicek said. “In 1994, it was all brand new territory. Now, all these years later, despite the novelty of the experience having worn off, it’s still fun and exciting to visit all these cities and meet the fans.”
The album’s fourth track, “You Know the Words,” embodies that spirit, and it gives an insight into what making music means to Lewis and his crew.
“I think I’d be in the ground or a mental institution if I didn’t do some kind of writing and performing,” Reznicek said.