By Chuck Cox
The sound at any show at the Kessler is spectacular. But when it’s an acoustic concert at the Oak Cliff hot spot, like Saturday’s bill of Vaden Todd Lewis and opener Will Johnson, chill bumps are going to happen. Accept it.
Lewis, lead singer of the Toadies and the Burden Brothers, was taking an inaugural stab at playing a solo, acoustic gig. And it suited him incredibly well. Much to the delight of the crowd, Lewis navigated his way through a 20-song set that included several Toadies tunes, including sing-along inducing classics like “Possum Kingdom,” “I Come From the Water,” and the rousing set-closer “Tyler,” along with some great Burden Brothers offerings, like “Beautiful Night,” and even a couple of covers.
One of my favorites was the early Toadies rarity “Send You to Heaven” about a hitchhiker going to Memphis who is going on and on about the Beatles and the Stones to the Elvis fan who picked him up and is clearly not amused.
Lewis was also pretty loose with the crowd, sharing a few anecdotes, including a great one about messing with a college radio deejay interviewing the Toadies back in their heyday. At one point, a concert-goer shouted out, “Where you from?” After a quick laugh, Lewis answered, “I”m from Fort Worth, Texas!”
Burden Brothers guitarist Casey Hess also joined Lewis to play along on three songs, including a cover of Beck’s “Lost Cause.” Lewis also said Kessler artistic director Jeff Liles gave the Toadies their first Dallas gig. Talk about coming full circle.
And it would be a crime to not talk about the 45-minute opening set by Johnson, lead singer of Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel. Johnson was absolutely mesmerizing, perfectly playing every song, including some from his latest solo album, “Scorpion,” with beautiful emotion. He also treated the crowd to a funny story about receiving an autographed Stevie Nicks tambourine and played a new song from Centro-Matic’s forthcoming album.
Johnson finished his set up with a stellar cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Money Changes Everything.” When Lewis went on stage, he thanked Johnson and seemed genuinely taken aback by his opener’s amazing performance. I think his exact words were: “Jesus, Will.”
I had seen the Toadies and Centro-Matic play shows before, but hearing these guys play acoustically was incredible. It’s also the first of three shows in five days at the Kessler for me. I’ll be catching Butch Walker Monday and the Zombies on Wednesday. In between, I’m going to see Alabama Shakes at the Palladium Ballroom on Tuesday. Make sure you check the Front Row on Rattleandhumsports.com for my thoughts on those shows this week.