Let’s cut to the chase on today’s edition of Bootleg City. While I could tell you a story about the time that Mayor Cass took a bunch of taxpayer money and decided to build a heated ice rink, I’m not going to do that. Instead, we’re going to take you to another place where it gets really cold and only occasionally warm in the summertime. Actually, from my experiences in Minneapolis, I can tell you that it seems to get hot as hell in the summertime to make up for the “you ain’t goin’ outside during this time of the year” weather that happens during wintertime.
In Walker, MN, at least, they make really good use of the warm weather period and hold an awesome rock and roll festival called Moondance Jam. For years, the festival has been made up of a lot of the standard classic rock fare, from Sammy Hagar to REO Speedwagon to Foghat, etc. etc. (In other words, it’s my dream festival that I have yet to attend!) In recent years, they’ve expanded the focus to include some of the more popular ’90s alt-rockers in the mix and this year’s bill included Tonic, one of my very favorite bands from the era.
I always felt like Tonic got the shaft during the ’90s, doomed as “that band” with the success of the mushy hit single “If You Could Only See,” from their first album Lemon Parade. To those of us that were paying attention prior to that moment, Tonic was a great rock band, with initial singles “Open Up Your Eyes” (a co-worker called it “Open Up Your Thighs”) and “Casual Affair” (which should have been a bigger hit at rock radio) as evidence.
When I saw them live prior to the release of their second album Sugar, they showcased a number of songs from the album and proved that Lemon Parade was no fluke – Tonic was a great band with plenty of great songs and yes, still more rock with “Knock Down Walls,” and “Drag Me Down” being just a couple of songs that kicked down the door the first time I listened to Sugar.
To skip ahead a lot, Head on Straight (the band’s third album) was released and later nominated for a Grammy on the same day that the band found out that they were being dropped by Universal Records (while on the road, no less). Updates became sporadic after that and the band eventually packed it in (although guitarist Jeff Russo says that the band never really called it quits) with lead singer Emerson Hart launching a solo career while the other band members pursued the usual individual projects.
Ballads or rockers, Hart and the members of Tonic wrote some of the finest music during the ’90s that deserved more of an audience than it received. They regrouped for a new album last year and although I can’t say that it hits the mark like their previous albums did, I wouldn’t count these guys out – I think they’ve definitely got another great album in them.
Tonic’s set from the Moondance Jam is nearly perfect – 5 songs from Lemon Parade, 4 songs from Sugar (including the wonderful title track), 1 from Head on Straight and surprisingly, only 1 from their newest self-titled release. Perhaps they simply wanted to take the typical approach and come loaded for bear with a festival-friendly “greatest hits” type set and if that was the goal, they certainly achieved it. The guys at Classic Rock Revisited (who have been Moondance Jammers since the beginning) summarized the band’s set, saying that “I don’t think anyone thought before the show that Tonic would be this good-or heavy.” Their reaction is a common one for many that are seeing the band live for the first time and perhaps are only familiar with the “big hit.”
The fanboy in me can’t really argue with this setlist – I’d love to hear the previously mentioned “Drag Me Down,” “Knock Down Walls” or a couple more from Head On Straight, but they make up for all of that with a pavement peeling 7 minute version of “Casual Affair” that just rips. If you’ve never given these guys a good shot, skip ahead to that one and then check out the rest of the set – I’m guessing it will make you a believer.
On my side of things, as the Moondance Jam celebrates 20 years this year, I’m thinking that the time might be right for me to finally make that trip. Now, I just need to check to see if my buddy Brian can drive me there….
Live at Moondance Jam