Doktor John Ambrose

Toad the Wet Sprocket Warm Hearts in Red Bank

Much loved Californian alternative rockers Toad the Wet Sprocket brought their 20-city All You Want Tour to The Vogel in Red Bank, New Jersey on September 28. Having given less attention to the common themes of love and romance, Toad instead produced eclectic, country-based rock that seems to provide a more insightful look at life. 

The audience was placed at an array of long tables each perpendicular to the stage with couples seated facing across from each other. Snacks and drinks were available from an easily accessed bar. The usher staff was over-the-top courteous and helpful, and the atmosphere was excited as well as civilized (as one might expect for Toad the Wet Sprocket). 

Sweetly melodic “Windmills” off the Dulcinea album started the set and was followed by a harder rock entry, “Come Down,” setting a pattern of alternating sublime and energetic songs as the show went on. Singer/song writer Phillips led the five-piece band through the set, ranging from strongly-worded rockers like “When Will You Come Down” to emotionally-stirring odes like “The Best of Me,” a track in praise of a really good woman. 

Highly beloved hits like ‘Walk on the Ocean,” “Nightengale Song,” and “Good Intentions” came across as subtly phrased deliberations on existential issues of everyday life. “Somethings Always Wrong,” which came later in the show, expressed – as only Phillips could – the universal experience of trying to set something up when circumstances don’t cooperate. 

The All You Want Tour itself takes its name from the title of overwhelmingly popular single, “All I Want,” which captures Toad’s major theme by declaring that “whatever happens will be.” It also serves as the title of the compilation album of the same name that made up the core of the set list. Just about all their great classics were heard plus the best pieces off the two later albums, New Constellations and Starting Now. The only one I missed hearing was “Is It for Me.”

Each member of the ensemble had opportunity to amaze the audience with spectacular solo performances, even including a percussion piece featuring Dean Dinning. At several points, Phillips took the spotlight, and on one of them performed a piece, “The Sound of Drinking,” from his solo work. 

Toward the end of the nearly two-hour concert, still-enthusiastic Phillips introduced the band members and supporting staff. Besides guitarist Todd Nichols and bassist Dean Dinning, he gave shoutouts to drummer Carl Thompson, who takes the place of original drummer Randy Guss (forced to retire due to health issues); Jon Sison who played slide guitar, mandolin, and keyboard; guitar tech Mike, and the tour mastermind John Edman. 

After two hours of achingly beautiful and uplifting music, the audience was emotionally drained and rose to a standing ovation for the closing pieces, “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted.” In an age when the music world no longer rewards artists with record sales, Toad the Wet Sprocket continues to find success by staging spectacular live performances on a regular basis and on tours nationwide.