May 22, 2015 Glen Phillips & Emerson Hart’s intimate evening at Boulton Center Bay Shore, NY 5-17-15
During the 1990s, two of the most successful Alternative Rock bands around were Toad the Wet Sprocket and Tonic. They have combined for thirteen chart topping singles through the years and helped inspire a generation of young songwriters. While each band respectfully made their way, each band’s main songwriter, Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and Emerson Hart of Tonic, have dabbled in solo careers as well. Tapping into a different aspect of their songwriting outside of their respected bands, Phillips and Hart solidify themselves as pure musicians channeling Folk Rock and Alternative Rock into one hybrid they call their own. Actively touring around the country with their bands, as well as solo, the two artists have known one another for years, but seldom had the chance to ever share a bill together due to alternate schedules. That is why Sunday, May 17th, was an extra special evening when the two made the trip out to Bay Shore, New York for a special showcase at YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts. No strangers to the quaint venue, Phillips and Hart have graced its stage countless times, but this would be the first time ever together.
First up was New Jersey native, currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee, Emerson Hart. Making a big splash with Tonic’s Lemon Parade in 1996, the debut studio album went platinum, and reminded listeners that one did not need to sacrifice a heavy sound to accomplish meaningful songs. Releasing three albums in the years to follow, with the last being 2010’s self-titled, Tonic secured their place as one of this generations most thoughtful Alternative Rock acts. With songs about life, love, and everything in between, Hart’s voice caps-off the Irish laden sound which is Tonic. Releasing his solo debut in 2007 titled Cigarettes & Gasoline, Hart garnished further praise and achieved two Top 20 singles from the record. Now splitting time between solo material, Tonic, and being a father, Hart released his follow-up, Beauty in Disrepair, in 2014 and further explores his inner thought through the expression of song.
Walking onto the stage in comfortable, casual fashion, Hart immediately addressed the audience and made the evening more of a personal event than anything else. Fitting to the emotion his songs evoke, Hart played many familiar tracks including Tonic’s “Lemon Parade.” Receptive to the audience’s desires, he also played requests and offered up some beautiful tunes from his latest solo album such as “You Know Who I Am.” Giving the audience an introspective look into the meaning behind his songs, Hart explained the story behind his plantation home in Nashville, turning an eerie sounding ghost story into a comforting piece of music with the song “The Wire.” Singing passionately and sounding full of life, Hart’s voice echoed the message to the descendants of his home from the perspective of a trusted caretaker who means them no harm. Continuously joking around and keeping the mood very light, Hart made light of blunders, making the performance that much more human, as well as inviting to the audience. Sarcastic, witty, and insightful, beneath the jokester exterior Hart portrays, everyone knows he is a professional at heart as he performed songs such as 1999’s “Mean To Me” with ease.
Continuing to tell stories of himself, Hart expressed a strong affection for his daughter and his experiences with her. Perhaps changing the songwriter’s prospective on life in general, being a father seems to be a task he embraces with open arms. Speaking of the pictures hanging in the hallway of his home, and explaining to his daughter who each and every person in the photographs are, Hart segued into the somber, but beautiful tune “Hallway.” Setting off a sea of emotion, as music is always intended to, Hart’s honest words captured a special moment in time. Moving through more conversation and music, Hart admitted he never grows tired of the tune that topped charts in the Spring of 1997, no matter how many times he plays it. That song of course is none other than the unmistakable “If You Could Only See.” Still as effective as ever, judging by the audience’s applause, no one else is tired of it as well. Gracious for the support of fans, Hart did everything right during his return to Long Island. He is perhaps one of the most underrated songwriters of this generation and seeing him perform live never gets old. Thankfully, Hart will be back around on tour this Summer, this time with Tonic teaming up with Toad the Wet Sprocket and Smash Mouth.
No set change was needed following Hart’s performance, and after a brief intermission, Phillips took the stage. First making an impression with Toad the Wet Sprocket back in 1989 with their debut studio album Bread & Circus, the band has celebrated a magnificent career. Perhaps making their biggest impact with their 1991 album, Fear, Toad the Wet Sprocket stood against the Grunge Rock scene of the time, but found solace in being their own band. Initially taking a break as a band in 1998, Phillips moved into a solo career and released his debut album titled Abulum in 2001. Remaining busy with a slew of solos released through the 2000s, as well as working with Mutual Admiration Society and Work Progress Administration, adding to it all, in 2006 Phillips and Toad the Wet Sprocket reunited for good. Spending recent years touring about the country, in 2013 they brought joy to fans, finally releasing a new album entitled New Constellation. Now spending time touring with Toad the Wet Sprocket, Phillips fits in solo gigs when possible, and The Boluton Center was glad to see him back.
Approaching the stage smiling, Phillips wasted little time, quickly strumming his way into the acoustic set. Singing as clear and powerful as ever, his voice resonated through the theater as he played familiar Toad the Wet Sprocket cuts such as “Fall Down.” While Toad The Wet Sprocket’s songs usually feature harmonized vocals, Phillips tackled his performance of them flawless, but was not afraid to ask for the audience’s assistance on newer song such as “Finally Fading,” when he coached everyone when to chime in during the chorus. Delightful and interactive, Phillips showcased his own sense of humor, cracked jokes at every turn and even playfully expressed a love for pirates prior to going into nautically themed “Walk On the Ocean.”
Keeping everyone’s attention, laughing, smiling, and singing along, Phillips kept the set moving as he played other fan-favorites like his solo “Everything But You” and Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Whatever I Fear.” Capitalizing on the intimate setting, Phillips thrived, and to the delight of everyone, he mixed up his song selection from his previous visits to The Boulton Center. While the playlist unfolded, of course mainstay classics such as “All I Want” made their way into the progression of the night as more sing-alongs took place with Phillips and the audience. Harnessing his laid back attitude and introspective take on life, Phillips rounded out the night with a mesmerizing rendition of his solo song “Don’t Need Anything,” before expressing immense appreciation to the fans for spending their Saturday night with him.
Revealing he is in fact working on a brand new solo album, Phillips left The Boulton Center ready to head back into the recording studio. Exciting to fans, it will be in fact his first solo release since Options – B-sides & Demos last year, and his first official studio album since 2006’s Mr. Lemons. Upping the anty, as mentioned earlier, Phillips will be hitting the road with Toad The Wet Sprocket, Tonic, and Smash Mouth in June. Enthusiastic to get on the road together, earlier in the night, Hart enthusiasticly expressed, “It will be a Toad and Tonic party.” That sentiment is unquestionably mirrored by followers who cannot wait for the tour to come around and jump-start the Summer season. Unfortunately, no dates have yet been announced for the local area, but Toad fans can circle July 16th on their calender when Toad the Wet Sprocket visits The Paramount in Huntington.