Wants audiences to think

Pine Planes Register Herald

February 2, 1989

The Toll is a band that wants audiences to think
by George M. Prisco

Some bands emphasize that they are not “message bands.” Others, like The Toll, want their audiences to think while rocking.

Night watch

The Toll, a four-man musical operation from the Midwest, is as energetic as it is socially and politically relevant. The band is scheduled to appear with Urban Blight on Feb. 4 at The Chance in Poughkeepsic.

It’s rare, said lead singer Brad Circone in a phone interview last week, to find a band like The Toll entering the mainstream music scene unscathed. The band survived a major record deal and has kept its musical and political integrity, Circone said.

Circone said he “thought for sure” that when the band signed with Geffen, the record company might harness and dispel the rough edge that made The Toll unique and relevant. Part of the band’s presentation consists of spoken narratives ad libbed by Circone in the midst of a song.

On The Toll’s new album — The Price of Progression — Circone , weaves his sharp-edged narratives into Jonathan Toledo, a song about the dying race of native Americans, Anna-41-Box, a tale of a woman who finds herself all grown up, lonely, depressed and unfulfilled, and Living in the Valley of Pain, about the stifling of a young boy by his religious educators.

When the band stepped into the studio, it was made known that the record company wanted its raw rage captured on the album. Circone said he was more comfortable after he was given the artistic freedom. Freedom not only to create, but also to screw up.

“You can’t be too efficient,” he said. “Without a little roughness and problems, you can’t have change, you know?”

And change, sometimes slow but often swift and usually painful, is a theme infused into The Toll’s music. Changing times and attitudes produce people who must live within their limitations. People stifled, intertwined, often suffering, but surviving.

Some have suggested that the 1990s will be a return to the 1960s, as far as social consciousness and activism is concerned. But, Circone said that the ’60s are gone. The ’90s activism is more like “gang warfare,” as compared to the communal revolution fought on college steps and on spiritual battlefields in the 1960s, he said.

“Today we have rap music,” Circone said, referring to that musical sect as an example of a group — or gang — forming around a genre with an us-versus-them attitude.

Circone can probably best be categorized as a participatory, lyrical reporter. A gonzo lead singer right out of the P.J. O’Rourke School of music journalism. His intent, he said, is to take a social condition, such as the treatment of Native Americans or the wild burnings of an unfulfilled 41-year-old woman, and slap it in front of people. If his audience is forced to think, forced to confront a social ill and the consequences of ignoring people’s pain, then Circone feels he has succeeded.

But, one must be open to accepting The Toll before listening. The journey that The Price of Progression offers begins only after the listener packs his or her bags, buys the bus ticket and takes a seat. The music drives hard and the lyrics are somcumes disturbing. The pictures Circone paints are starkly real, like only-too-true photos of the holocaust. Anna, the unfulfilled 41-year old, lies in bed feigning sleep, hoping her husband is fooled so that she may be spared the brunt of his sickening sexual urges. But, he sees through her ploy and the two participate in a ritual that disgusts Anna.

“She’s trying to become numb to it. His masculine lips sicken her. It smells of sex unwanted in her room … the stench of a lie.”

In another narrative, during Jonathan Toledo, Circone tells of a trip he took to a native American market place. On one side of the plaza stood a large, milky-white marble statue commemorating the men who “won the west,” and subdued the natives. On the other side of the plaza, a native American woman sold trinkets.

Circone said the native Americans have become “artifacts in their own days.” They weren’t able to assimilate into U. S. culture, so now they are dying, becoming a lost race.

The decline of the native American strikes a chord inside Circone and makes him worry about the future of free thinkers and artists. What happens if more artists are forced to work within the system? If people stop realizing that something can be learned from a simple man’s statement? If Anna continues swallowing her life?

There are no answers, Circone said. Only hope. Only the recognition that Anna, the native American, or the small boy taught to hate by teachers who hide behind a cloak of love, is a part of all of us.

“Anna, get out of the house, keep on going its not too late.”

Also at The Chance, Wargasm, Hades and Mucky Pup take the stage Friday, Feb 3. On Feb. 10, the Led- Zcp like Physical Graffiti performs. Graffiti brings the great ’70s rock pioneers back to life, and ensures an evening of fun.

“I’m playing solo for a few weeks, testing some new songs for another album.” That’s the message from Steve Forbert, who is scheduled to appear at the Towne Crier Cafe on Saturday, Feb. 4. Forbert, whose twin sons will turn 1 year old Feb. 26, said his upcoming album will be about “responsibility.” Moving into your 30s, with kids, can be a sobering experience, he said.

Also, Livingston Taylor will play the Crier Friday, Feb. 3. Even though the show is sold out, rumor has it that another show might be added Thursday, Feb. 2. But, call 855-1300 for details. Sunday, Feb. 5 will find guitarist Pierre Bensusan on the stage at the Crier.

And, as always, call me at 677- 8241 or write to Taconic Newspapers, P.O. Box 316. Millbrook. N.Y. 12545, with concert info or story ideas.