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Kings of the road

Toadies return to their rubbernecking ways



There are many ways to celebrate the release of an album. But Texas cult combo Toadies have certainly hit on one of the best. And tastiest.

Just in time for the 20th-anniversary reissue of its Rubberneck debut — featuring breakthrough single "Possum Kingdom," plus five bonus tracks like "Run in With Dad" and a cover of Pylon's "Stop It" — the band has partnered with local Fort Worth newcomers Martin House Brewing for its very own brand of beer, Rubberneck Red, available on tap, in kegs, and in six-packs throughout Texas.

Sure, it's been done before — artists like Elbow, Kid Rock and even Hanson can all claim their own alcoholic beverages. But the post-grunge band tried to put its own unique spin on it. "Our singer Todd [Lewis] was out doing his regular social stuff, and he met some guys that run the place," says 45-year-old guitarist Clark Vogeler, the only Toadie who left town; he currently resides in L.A., where the band usually records. "The next we knew, they got in touch with us about what flavors we wanted to do, and they started sending beers back and forth."

The Martin House website has a photo of the garage-punk musicians in the brewery, sporting lab coats and looking as if they've just formulated Dr. Jekyll's diabolical Hyde-freeing potion. The brew avoids craft-beer pretense and has a 5 percent alcohol content, so fans won't get blotto three songs into a Toadies concert. The company even issued a line of Rubberneck Red pint glasses.

"I'm drinking iced tea out of one right now," Vogeler notes. "It's got the Martin House logo, plus a big triangle that says Toadies on it."

When not enjoying frosty glasses of iced tea, the Toadies continue to think up new merchandising ideas — never a bad idea in a world where compact discs have become increasingly archaic. Earlier this month, they released a 1,000-copy limited-edition single on Texas-shaped vinyl, featuring an early live version of "Possum Kingdom."

It was four years after that breakthrough single that Vogeler first joined the group. Prior to that, he'd assembled a documentary called Dark Secrets: The Stories of Rubberneck from vintage session footage shot by founding bassist Lisa Umbarger, whose 2001 departure would lead to the band's five-year hiatus. Vogeler also interviewed frontman and key songwriter Lewis, and was surprised by his uncharacteristic candor.

"Todd was way more forthcoming than I've ever heard him be about his lyrics — he explained exactly what he was talking about," recalls the guitarist.

For instance, the songs "I Burn" and "Possum Kingdom" were thematically connected, and they concerned a creepy religious cult that descended into ritual self-immolation.

"And in 'Possum Kingdom,' the narrator has jumped into the fire," says Vogeler, "and now he's this spirit, this smoke, floating around this Possum Kingdom, and trying to find somebody to join him in this formless way of being. There is a lot of intensity on that record."

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