April 20, 2006
Other than the guys in the band and the owner, I'm positive I was the oldest person inside the Mushroom Thursday night for their 36th annual 420 party. Walking and crowding amongst red-eyed and frail college kids(one dreadlocked white kid's mouth hung so low that I could have neatly fit my shoe into it), it didn't help my ancient feeling when the keg operator reminded me that I couldn't leave the place with the beer for fear of the cops. How long had it been since someone said that? I might as well have been the chaperone.
Last year Tomatoes bassist George Ortolano had to hang his mic from the ceiling, but this year he came prepared with a mic stand. His band performed in a revamped t-shirt section to a consistent crowd of ten to fifteen people. The faithful were focused on the band, while others came and went as they searched for pizza and beer.
Thursday night's concert threw me for a loop. I encountered a group that was showcasing new songs and a different sound. I used to be able to rely on their catchy punk rock aggresiveness and ferocity. The way they delivered their hooks with the power of metal. And sure, they played some songs from their first CD, "The Rise and Fall of The Tomatoes," but the set as a whole seemed confused. It's the band's right to be diverse and mix up their approach, but it still didn't make for an easy listening experience.
I'm not ready to say their new material is weaker because I haven't heard it enough. Some of it just seems forced. On all their new songs, they've turned down the volume, but for some, they've completely ditched the grunge for a Kinks and Monkees pop mixture that doesn't seem to go with the times. What do high school cheerleader anthems like "Standing(Right Next to You)" and "I Gotta Dance" have to do with the city, the country, and me? Lead singer/guitarist William Burdette hasn't completely lost his dissent, though. Words like "underground" and "suburban" are used liberally in new songs like "Teenage Roosevelt" and "Fight Song."
The new sound isn't bad just because I lament the passing of the old one. But, I do prefer the louder bent of their older material.
Despity my misgivings, it was easy to see the band was on, as usual. Their delivery was tight and professional. It was fun to watch Burdette play around with his high-attitude onstage persona, and his rolls on the ground and high jumps are always a crowd pleaser. Drummer Woody had more to give than the songs allowed, and Ortolano's back-up vocals solidified the songs. Bands with back-up vocals seem more unified and in sync. Susequently, it's easier to sell me.
I applaud The Tomatoes for trying something new, but I just wonder if I can hang.