A Little Pretension to Take Its Toll of the Coach House

Among the inescapable conclusions drawn from the Toll’s concert Sunday at Bogart’s in Long Beach: What a difference a few states make.

Go to a show within the Ohio quartet’s Midwest stronghold--say, Michigan--and the turnout is a fire marshal’s nightmare, people speak of the group in absolutely reverential terms and there’s a palpable buzz surrounding its debut release, “The Price of Progression.”

Out here, most folks haven’t heard of the Toll--much less heard its music--which probably helps explain why the group’s local debut at Bogart’s drew maybe 50 people. Of course that might be expected in an area in which these guys have never toured, especially when they released a 10-minute song for the first single, effectively locking themselves out of much radio air play or video eye play.

But, actually, that epic is a representative calling card not only because two other “Price” songs clock in over 10 minutes, but also because these rather humorless chaps are often way over the top--for better and worse. Or, as a dark-haired chap put it Sunday a few songs into the Toll’s 80-minute set: “A little pretentious, but cool.”


Some Toll-watchers will be even less forgiving. But each person’s decision to embrace or dismiss the band (which plays the Coach House tonight and Club Lingerie on Thursday) will probably hinge on the reaction to those long pieces and/or the performances of singer-front man Brad Circone, who improvises--over huge, guitar-driven, anthem-like passages--different narratives and lyrics, ranging from the effects of a Catholic upbringing to the mind-set of a middle-aged woman trapped in a unfulfilling, decaying marriage.

And then there are his pumped-up stage antics, which on Sunday included turning a flip and, with no warning, falling onto the dance floor. The Toll won’t be everyone’s cup of sonic tea. But with the showy theatrics, the nightly tightrope act of verbal improvisations and what Bono calls “a big sound,” this is clearly an arena-rock band waiting to happen. With enough touring--and some shorter singles--it probably will.

The Toll, Ann De Jarnett and Imagining Yellow Suns play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $8 to $10. Information: (714) 496-8930.