Say It Three Times Fast: An Introduction to Toyboat
by Tom Smith
People forget that there is more rock and roll than John Mellencamp in the Heartlands.
They mostly forget it because Iowa is pretty freaking boring.
Uncle Bonsai’s song about Iowa ("Here's to the plow, here's to the plowers / Here's to the quilting for hours and hours") understates the case badly, as does "You Really Ought To Give Iowa A Try" from The Music Man. Although that song does touch on one of the truly best things about Iowa, their sense of teamwork. They just get stuff done there. Someone needs help, you help. Good way to be.
Not a real destination, though. I mean, having driven through Iowa a few times now, I can categorically state that the most exciting landmark in the state is the WELCOME TO ILLINOIS sign. My most vivid memory of Iowa is of some really good pulled pork I got at a tiny indie place just off the Interstate.
Oh, yeah, and Toyboat. There’s no way to not remember them.
(They are not, by the way, all from Iowa. Most are from Illinois. But if they have a front man, it’s the guy in the back, Eric, and he’s from Iowa, and this bio is kinda in retaliation/revenge for one Eric wrote for me, and it’s easier to make jokes about Iowa, so nyeah.)
Five guys of varying size, ranging in temperament from the content-to-be-in-the-background quietude of Mike and Raven to the in-your-face jollity of Eric, with Jason and Gundo somewhere in the middle. I’m not cutting-and-pasting, I’m telling you what I know. If you want serious bio details, check out their web site, toyboatband.com. Kinda ordinary fellas, nothing too outrageous. Okay, I lied. Stick Eric and his preferred tie-dye in front of a solar panel and you could run a Honda.
Stick all five of ‘em together on stage, however, and something cool happens.
Mike Nixon just sits there, with a look on his face like he’s reading the paper, except he’s cranking out the most astonishing guitar licks with speed and aplomb.
Jason Neerenberg always has the Andy Kaufman "Tenk yoo veddy much" look on his face while playing the bass, because every bit of concentration in his body has fled to his fingers so he can lay down the rock-solid foundation.
David "Raven" Stowell could be almost invisible -- a waiter, a butler, a very tall ninja. But every song has a structure, and his keyboards are the nicely appointed velvet drapes upon which all the decorations hang.
Daniel "Gundo" Gunderson is the closest to a conventional rocker -- wild hair, relatively thin, jammin’ all over the stage. His guitar blends smoothly with Mike’s, and his mandolin and harmonica are bright and energetic, and between them and the other two guys, they almost don’t need drums.
Surveying the carnage around him, oozing in charnal stench and the taste of copper, the Dark One squats upon his throne, smiting all before him in a cacophony of - okay, okay, it’s Eric Coleman playing the drums. We haven’t got too many rock drummers in fandom, and Eric’s one of the best. Along with his vocals (he shares lead duty with Gundo), he’s the centerpiece of Toyboat, the one you’re likeliest to recognize and remember. And, honestly, on his own he’s a fine musician and singer. But here, he’s part of a team.
And that’s the real thing to remember. The best bands, certainly the best bands in filk, are teams. playing off each other’s strengths, covering each other’s weaknesses, supporting each other’s contributions and bringing the best to each part to make an even greater whole. These guys love what they do, and it shows in their tight performances, their clever and catchy lyrics, their well-chosen covers, and their unique sound. Toyboat is a team, and a winning one.
Get to know ‘em if you get the chance this weekend. Certainly, show up at their concert. You’ll have some fun, and hear some great music, and you’ll never forget that there’s rock and roll in the Heartlands.
Even they can’t do much about Iowa being boring, though.
Tom Smith is lucky enough to know Toyboat. If they can ever get a decent recording of their infrequent TomBoat concerts, they’ll put out a recording.