by Luke Bumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here was a time -- I'll let the individual reader decide whether that time was a simpler one or not -- when REO Speedwagon wasn't considered classic rock. There was a time, more recently, when Def Leppard wasn't either. Def Lep was just rock -- edgy, sexy, highly permed, one-arm-drumming Brit butt rock, spewed out of boom boxes and mused about over bottles of Schlitz from behind fluorescent green Oakley Blades. I wasn't old enough at that point to drink or care about putting my scalp through the 300 brush strokes necessary to get my mullet feathered properly, but you can bet your ass I owned Hysteria.
Back then, Def Leppard would have been anathema to a classic rock station. Quite literally, it would have represented the antithesis of rock for everyone who considered "Radar Love" to be the oeuvre's crowning moment. (You know who you are.) Now, rock and "classic rock" mingle freely and without comment. It's an interesting dynamic, and the first time you hear it, it's incredibly off-putting.
All genres -- this extends far beyond pop music -- inevitably get watered down by inclusion, but they usually retain some of that initial aesthetic identity. Classic rock hasn't. That's because, as strange as it seems, it's less a genre than a corporate radio programming format; it achieved genre status ex post facto. Which is why anything you hear on KKZX or the Buzzard becomes, instantly, Classic Rock.
Since it began as a programming niche, classic rock is fundamentally about demographics. The fact that it began as a stylistically coherent group of artists (rock acts; post-Sgt. Pepper, pre-Sex Pistols) is mere coincidence. Classic rock is whatever a particular (aging) socio-economic target wants to hear. This still includes post-Pepper Beatles. It also now includes Dire Straits.
Which means that, given their current trajectory, Toad the Wet Sprocket should be achieving classic rock status ... about a week ago, for a variety of reasons.
1) They've just begun their don't-call-it-a-reunion-tour reunion tour.
2) Singer Glen Phillips' solo noodling (read: rampant narcissism) has reached a pinnacle (of decadence) such that he's required a little solo acoustic time in the middle of each Toad the Wet Sprocket tour date. (Call it the Neil Peart & Rush test of individual egoism.)
3) A preponderance of Toad fans have become financially secure enough that they can begin buying Tommy Bahama shirts in earnest and shelling out their disposable cheddar for nosebleed seats at any one of hundreds of nostalgia festivals.
4) They care enough about one particular dude to follow him to the ends of the earth, giving him money all the way.
All that's left is for our local Clear Channel programmers to realize that 1) and 2) correlate directly to 3) and 4), and it's all over.
So we hope you're happy, Toad the Wet Sprocket, you've just prematurely ushered your fans into middle age. The joke, though, is really on us post-Toad alt kids. The time span between when a band breaks up and when it reunites is diminishing, meaning we've only got a few weeks before KKZX starts spinning Foo Fighters with occasional wisty dashes of Weezer. It's just going to take Dave Grohl and Rivers Cuomo taking up, like, the harp or the sitar to signal that our 401(k)s have begun to ripen.
Toad the Wet Sprocket at the Big Easy (with a Glen Phillips acoustic set) on Thursday, Aug. 10, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $25. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.