The United Sons of Toil @ Skull Alley, Louisville, KY, and the Dojo, Indianapolis, IN
October 23 & 24, 2009
The United Sons of Toil were on day nine of their eleven-day tour of the Midwest when a friend and I caught up with them in Louisville, KY. I’d like to say we chose this show because after a week on the road they would need a couple of friendly faces more than ever, but the truth is we just really like Louisville. As far as first tours go, this one has to qualify as a success since the band was only a hundred dollars in the hole with three shows left. There had been high points: the show in Minneapolis may have been the best they ever played, and it sounded like the pickup gig in Carbondale, IL—in the style of the Good Ol’ Blues Brothers Boys Band—may have been the most fun. There had been at least one very low point. The previous night the owner of the venue in Detroit pulled the plug on their show an hour before start time, claiming “four out-of-town bands on a bill wasn’t a good idea,” leaving everyone wondering why he had booked it in the first place.
Skull Alley is a charming all-ages club, screen print shop and record label. Colorful and slightly gory Halloween-themed artwork lined the brick walls of the long, narrow room, and its owner Jamie hustled between working the door, running sound and tending bar. The headliners tonight were the (inexplicably) much-loved local band Ghostbusters, who were playing a reunion show that had the kids slamming into each other enthusiastically for most of their set of loud, generic rock. The Toil were easily the best band on the bill—which also included the kabuki-mask-wearing, mostly instrumental band Bu Hau Ting and the hilarious cowboy metal band Stage Coach Inferno—but it seemed most of the crowd stood out front of the building during their set of intense math rock. Still, the dozen who witnessed the pummeling seemed into it, and that was enough to inspire the band. The Inferno’s long-haired guitarist enthused about playing more shows with the Toil, but I couldn’t quite tell when bassist Bill Borowski agreed if he was just humoring him.
The drive to Indianapolis the next day was less than two hours, so the band joined us for lunch in Louisville at Ramsi’s Cafe on the World, courtesy of Dick the Bruiser’s Tony Sellers. He had informed them via Facebook that he would like to buy them lunch in whatever city they were in. The show that night was in a new all-ages venue called the Dojo. The absence of any sort of exterior signage made it seem possible that it wasn’t a venue at all, just some abandoned storefront they had taken over for the evening. It also made it seem unlikely that anyone would show up, and for the most part the audience seemed to be made up of the other bands. What the venue lacked in comfort and atmosphere, it more than made up for in musical quality. The two other bands on the bill, Vessel from Brooklyn and Rooms from Indy, were both excellent, and I was happy to support them by buying CDs. Ten days of screaming had been hard on lead singer/guitarist Russell Hall’s voice, but the throat spray and lozenges he had been ingesting all day allowed him to get through the set.
While well short of the trials that Spinal Tap, or their real-life counterparts Anvil, encountered, the Toil certainly had amassed their share of stories, and I highly recommend Hall’s tour blog, available on their MySpace pages. Still, I think it went well enough that they will do it again sometime. Always the optimist, drummer Jason Jensen claimed it was the best vacation he’d ever had. And I know I would certainly be up for another road trip.