They’re that band from the 1990s with a funny name whose songs made you want to traverse large bodies of water. Around the same time that Bill Clinton was first running for president, Toad the Wet Sprocket was climbing the Billboard charts with “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean.” Their music paralleled a rising sense of optimism among youth at the time and garnered them a significant and enduring fan base that outlasted the height of their popularity.
On Friday, the band will show audiences at the Orpheum Theatre how that sense of hope has evolved over the years. They’ll be playing a concert that promises to revisit fan-favorites as well as showcase new material.
“We paralleled what the rest of the country was going through,” said Glen Phillips, lead vocalist and guitarist for the band. “There was this youthful optimism, and then the rug got pulled out from under everybody. We worked hard, but then the social contract kind of dissolved. People felt like they’d invested into this thing that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s hard for anyone not to take that personally.”
The band – which also includes Dean Dinning on bass and vocals, Todd Nichols on lead guitar and vocals and Randy Guss on drums – is an ensemble of four guys from California who have been friends since they were teenagers in high school. Their odd name is a tribute to a fictional band by the same moniker that appeared in a Monty Python comedy sketch and was chosen facetiously before a small gig. Phillips said it was intended to be a temporary name and that it started out as a joke, but one that went on too long to change.
Toad was first active as a band from 1986-1998 and released five studio albums during that time. The band’s 1991 release, “Fear,” and its 1994 follow up, “Dulcinea,” went platinum and saw tracks such as “Fall Down” and “Something’s Always Wrong” climb the charts. The band broke up in 1998, and several members started work on solo projects. By the mid-2000s the band was back together for limited engagements at small venues, and later started touring again more regularly.
Phillips said that the fan base for Toad remained strong through the years and that as soon as the band was back together, people were asking for new material. That led to an online crowd-funding campaign via Kickstarter last year that eventually saw the release of an 11-track album, “New Constellation,” in October 2013. This past summer, Toad opened several shows for The Counting Crows. It’s now in the midst of its own multi-city tour.
“The interesting thing about the timing of this new record is that Toad stopped making records when I was still in my early 20s and just starting to be a dad. I still had this youthful idealism. It’s that age when you’re convinced you’ll never turn into your parents (not that my parents were bad), and you think you got it all worked out. You wonder why middle-aged people seem so stressed, and then middle age happens. This record sort of explores how different that is.”
Phillips said the content matches where the band members are today. The songs explore a deep approach to searching for meaning in life. Notable tracks that have become popular with fans include “California Wasted” and the title track.
“Looking back at the last two decades and now being in our 40s, we’re in a period, as are a lot of other people, where we have come to realize that happiness isn’t going to be getting everything we want and getting the security we want. Happiness is a practice of choice. It’s living each day and deciding to show up. It’s doing the best you can do with what you have. It’s stopping the gauging of success by judging the external. The songs on this album are a transition from that guarded, youthful idealism to this age of having to reclaim idealism consciously, as someone who’s been beaten up a few times. It’s sort of a melancholy optimism.”
While the band will be playing some of the new material at the show, Phillips said there will be plenty of old favorites too. He’s proud of the fact that the original songs have aged well.
“I like songs that make me cry. I like songs that make me feel something. We’re trying to make music that makes people feel something real. Hopefully, we’re achieving that again.”