Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sugar, Leather & The Nail (unedited)

For the first time in 15 years I saw Dangerous Toys in concert.

To see a Dangerous Toys concert in the 21st century requires a major commitment, disposable income or really good luck.

The band was a minor success during the hairband era. They weren't Tesla, they weren't Queensryche, they weren't Poison and they weren't Warrant. They were unglamorous, unsophisticated rockers from Austin, Texas. Sure, they had a few songs you'd file under slow/sappy, but not in the "Every Rose has its Thorn" or "I Saw Red" style that Poison and Warrant, respectively, made famous.

Dangerous Toys were loud, obnoxious, unapologetic and disassociated...disassociated with the trappings of the Sunset Strip. That's why they didn't come off like the acid washed rockers so many hair bands were. They were genuine southern rockers from Texas.

They had a couple of major label successes, but the bloom was off the rose by the time disc two hit the streets. They continued into the 1990s, working with smaller labels and playing to the few rock fans who hadn't bought into the mystique of Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails. All of those bands made some great music, but they lacked what some of their hair band predecessors had. I'll never understand why, but somehow the thousands of rock fans across the United States that loved hard rock seemed to disappear. They quit enjoying music they had loved, or they traded it in to appease their more sophisticated Foo Fighters sensibility. That's sarcasm, but it's also true.

By the late 1990s there wasn't really a Dangerous Toys any more. The band didn't break up, the guys just started doing different things at a time when the demand for Dangerous Toys had dropped off significantly.

I can't say how many times Dangerous Toys found its way to Minneapolis back in the day, but I know I saw them play a couple of times circa 1995. My guess is that the first show was in the summer of '94. My hunch is that the next show was in the fall of 1995.

Jason McMaster, the lead singer of the band, spoke about both of those shows on Friday night. He doubted any of us in the room were at that 1995 show when he polled the audience, but chances are that there were a couple handfuls of us who had indeed reconvened 15 years later to see Dangerous Toys at Pickle Park in 2010.

McMaster has gone on to front a variety of bands during the past 15 years, performing periodically in Texas and occasionally elsewhere. Even though Dangerous Toys never disbanded, there was no talk of new music or much else since that last, ill-fated attempt at writing new material in 1995. (The fourth and final CD was a bit of a departure from the loud, raucous Texas rock and roll we had grown to love. Honestly, I don't think it would have mattered what they recorded, there weren't enough fans that cared enough one way or another.)

In recent years there has been an occasional reunion show in Austin and a few shows in Japan, where aging American rockers (and pro wrestlers) always seem to do well. There have been a few festival appearances along the way, as well, but opportunities to see guys who sold 1 million copies of their debut CD are few and far between in the 21st century.

That's what made Friday night all the more curious.

A few months ago I was at the oddly-named Pickle Park in Fridley, Minn., to see another D-level hair band, Trixter. (I rate bands by success, and I'd say both Trixter and Dangerous Toys never graduated from D level, which isn't anything to be embarrassed about, D level means you succeeded at a level far higher than 99.5 percent of aspiring rock bands back in the day.) Trixter has been doing the occasional reunion show during the past few years, and inexplicably they ended up doing a show May 1 at Pickle Park. It was that night at Pickle Park that I learned of another upcoming show, a rare performance by Dangerous Toys. (Why Minneapolis is blessed with such concerts, instead of Chicago or Los Angeles, I'll never know.)

After 15 years, and few concerts during their absence, Dangerous Toys were returning to Minneapolis.

How fortunate were we here in Minnesota? Dangerous Toys appear to be playing two shows this summer, neither as part of a rock festival. They were booked in Minneapolis on Friday night, Kansas City on Saturday night. There's nothing else on their schedule, and I doubt there's another Dangerous Toys concert anywhere in the United States in the near future. Somehow we were the benefactors of a very rare opportunity.

Dangerous Toys may never command a grand audience again, but for the few hundred that attended Friday night, it was as if it was 1994 all over again.

The band played music from its first three albums, and plenty from that debut, of course. McMaster can still hit the high notes, and still wail like an injured cat. The sound was a bit off during the first few songs, but I find that's typical of most club shows I attend. McMaster's banter between songs wasn't anything special. He preached a little, bitched a little and reminisced a lot. He never mentioned his other bands or why Dangerous Toys hasn't been anywhere near Minnesota for 15 years. He did, however, suggest the band will be back next year. I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm all for it.

McMaster looks a lot like he did 15 years ago, remarkably so. I wouldn't be surprised if he came out after the show to sign CDs and other memorabilia. (I didn't hang around to find out.) He has done that in the past. He has always been very accessible to the fans, I know this firsthand from the 1990s. Before the days of e-mail I wrote a letter to him, and got a personal response. He may not have been receiving thousands of letters a week, but the fact he responded personally to a fan was impressive to me.

The crowd was decent, I thought. Better than the BulletBoys more than a year ago, and better than Trixter three months ago, but nothing overwhelming.

Two notes:

• One of the opening acts was a band called Beatallica, a fusion of the Beatles and Metallica. It was not good. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't nearly as clever or entertaining as you would hope.

• I have no doubt about the authenticity of the comment regarding the July 21 BulletBoys concert that reportedly drew approximately 25 people. I received a comment from a guy named Seastorm. How do I know it was a guy? Through dumb luck I stumbled upon his MySpace profile, and it turns out that he works for a local promotions company that was affiliated with the BulletBoys show last month. I still have no idea how he found my blog, but now I know his comment about the attendance was legit. I can't verify that he attended the Dangerous Toys concert, but that same dumb luck suggested that he planned to. I bet he can answer my questions about the local concert business. I'd love to have the opportunity to ask.


Anonymous said...

Great blog! I really enjoy reading this level of detail about on of my favorite bands from high school. Dangerous Toys had their one big success (that debut album) when I was in 10th grade. I'm pretty sure I learned about the band from the Teas'n Pleas'n MTV video and that drove me to buy the cassette. I think I wore that cassette out over the following two years. I even sent away to the Fan Club address listed in the liner notes - and received back a DT Newsletter (which I dug out of storage right before the concert).

Once college hit, I joined the grunge crowd and left my metal (and hair metal) behind, so I lost track of DT and the fact that they had any follow-up albums. In my late 20s, I re-found my love of metal and went about exploring new metal genres (power and prog metal is my main game), but also going back and getting many of my old favorites on CD, including DT's debut. I have been watching the DT myspace page for years, because they were on my "band bucket list": bands I need to see one time in my life. I had noticed there has only been an occasional reunion show in Austin and I was resigned to someday having to make a trip down there to see them.

Wow, was I shocked to see a Minneapolis show announced! Thank goodness a friend noticed this and knew I liked them or else I would have never known and missed it. I missed the two opening banks (Beatallica and 32 Headshots), because I was sitting in the other half of the club chatting with friends. One of those friends knows the guy who produced/promoted this show, so I was able to find out why in the world Minneapolis (and KC) were getting a show! Apparently the guy who produced this show has been trying for years to get DT to come here, but it hasn't been financially unviable (if a band is not touring and you want to book them, you're generally going to have to pay to fly the entire band here and back for a "one-off" show, which is cost-prohibitive). Well, it seems they were already playing KC (for reasons I don't know) and he was able to leverage that geographical nearness and convince them to come up to MN. Thank goodness he did! In my limited experience in the band-booking business, I've come to learn that a lot of thanks when a smaller band comes here is due to one promoter who simply loves that band and makes it happen! If not for this promoter, I may never have seen DT and so I thank him!

I thoroughly enjoyed the show. They played 8 of the 11 songs from the debut (still the only album I know) and I enjoyed the stuff from the other albums that I didn't know, too. I actually thought McMaster's banter between songs was very humorous. Many times I find myself wishing the singer would stop talking and start playing, but that was never the case here. I personally love that size of crowd - it doesn't feel empty, but it's still intimate enough that the band members can look at you and realize you are singing (or mouthing, in my case, no one wants to hear me sing!) all of the lyrics ;)

The only negative was the stupid "Hey, I'm a drunk girl and everyone wants to see me dancing up on stage, right???" activities. That mostly ruined the final song (Scared) - McMaster was relegated to the back of the stage! For reasons I can't understand, security was slow to take them off the stage, even when McMaster was motioning for them to do so.

McMaster did hang around at the merch booth afterwards and spent plenty of time with everyone who wanted to do so. I talked to him for a good 3-4 minutes while he signed my CD and that old "Dangerous Toys Newsletter #3 - August '89" :D

I heard McMaster talking to someone about Broken Teeth (one of his other bands) playing at the 400 Bar here in town. I didn't catch if he was talking in past or future tense, so I'm keeping an eye on the Broken Teeth calendar.


Anonymous said...

Ha, I went over the character limit for blog replies! Brevity is not always my strong suit. Just a couple miscellaneous thoughts:

Re Beatallica: I'm going to give them credit for having a bad day. I ran across them at Summerfest some years ago and sat down to watch them thinking "Beatles + Metallica? This is bound to be stupid". Instead, I was extremely impressed at how well they blended the two and how good the band's musicianship was. I didn't pay much attention to them this time, but my friends (who could hear them from afar) all thought they were horrible. I don't know, maybe something was wrong this specific day, but based on my first experience with them, I'm going to give them another chance if I run across them again.

BTW, the bouncer noticed my Warrant shirt and said Warrant would be coming to Pickle Park in the future. I see they are on their second post-Jani Lane vocalist. Not sure if I'd go....maybe.

- SeaStorm

Arthur Fonzarelli said...

Thanks for the info Seastorm. Glad you finally had a chance to experience something I did twice in the '90s. McMaster may not have believed many of us at Pickle Park were there for the Iron Horse show of '95, but the crowd wasn't as bad as he remembers, at least according to my recollection.

I like DT albums 2 and 3 overall. The fourth and final studio CD isn't one I'm real fond of, although I haven't listened to it in years, so I guess I should dust it off for one more listen. It had more of a '90s rock sound, or something like that, than the classic DT sound.

As for Warrant, I will be impressed if Pickle Park books them. They're not drawing huge crowds in 2010, but I thought they were playing higher profile, higher capacity venues overall. Back in the fall of 2008 I was able to see Warrant and Trixter at Myth Nightclub. I knew that Jani was once again out of the band. I got comps, and my friend was a huge Trixter fan back in the day, so we ended up at Myth that night. It was the second Warrant show with Robert Mason on vocals.

I knew Mason from his work on the second Lynch Mob CD. He's a great singer, and if you google long enough, you'll find stories about how he has provided vocal support for Ozzy. Here's one:

He isn't Jani, he isn't the guy singing on the CDs you've listened to over and over and over. They stick to the first to CDs in concert with Mason, and he hits the notes. He's not a vocal clone, but I had no reservations about seeing a Warrant concert with him on lead vocals. If I have the opportunity to see him sing for Warrant again, I will do so without hesitation.

Mason won't put asses in the seats. When you tell people Warrant has a different lead singer, most people will likely say "Robert who?" Those who lived the hair band era most certainly remember Jani, and most likely have no idea who Mason is, so Warrant isn't going to command the attention they do without Jani, but if you're the other guys in Warrant and your choices are performing a solid show with a capable, respected singer, or working for a living, it's an easy choice. Life may not be MTV glamourous, but it has worked for Skid Row for more than a decade, it can work for Warrant, too.

Anonymous said...

I do now see that Broken Teeth (Jason McMaster's other band) is playing the 400 Bar in Minneapolis on Oct 25, 2010. I'll probably check it out!

- Seastorm