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Toad Singer Up The Creek With John Paul Jones

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Toad Singer Up the Creek

Glen Phillips, Nickel Creek tour with rock vets

ANDREW DANSBYPosted Jul 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Rolling Stone.com

It is undoubtedly one of the stranger lineups on tour this summer, the evolving gaggle of musicians under the banner of the Mutual Admiration Society. The six-piece troupe has, at its heart, former Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips and the trio of string wizards in Nickel Creek. In need of a rhythm section, the group, which recently released its self-titled debut album, went international (and classic) recruiting Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Elvis Costello and the Attractions drummer Pete Thomas. The core of the MAS set will be songs from that album, written and sung by Phillips with backing by Nickel Creek's Chris Thile (mandolin), Sean Watkins (guitar) and Sara Watkins (fiddle), but Thile promises songs from Creek's two records, the Toad back catalog, and other odds and ends covers from the likes of Elliott Smith.

An admittedly unwieldy moniker, Mutual Admiration Society is also a fairly literal one. The Creek crew knew their Toad catalog inside out, often covering songs by the Nineties alternative pop band from California. While playing some Toad songs backstage at a Colorado show, the group was overhead by a friend of Phillips, who gave Sean Watkins the songwriter's email. Phillips and Nickel Creek shared a stage at Los Angeles club Largo, and before long, plans were made to put down some of Phillips unrecorded songs. Pre-production was minimal, as producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon) caught the spontaneous sparks between Phillips and the group for Mutual Admiration Society.

"Glen has a very organic approach to music," Thile says. "And we really love anything that we feel is done with skill and passion, and Glen has those two qualities in spades. The goal in a collaboration is always to turn it into something that's not immediately identifiable with one or the other collaborator. And I think we managed to do that, both on the record and on this tour . . . I mean we've got John Paul Jones of Led freakin' Zeppelin, and Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello's Attractions, we hope this tour will be even more of a mixed bag than the record."

According to Thile, the seeds for the current touring lineup were sown at a Nickel Creek show at a small club in London. "This man comes up to me and says, 'Hi, my name's John.' I said, 'Nice to meet you,' and he said, 'John Paul Jones.' My mouth was open at that point, and he mistook that for me not knowing who he was. He tried to explain that he was in Led Zeppelin. My thought was, 'I know, I know I know. What are you doing here?'"

A mandolin player himself, Jones was an admirer of Thile, a mandolin phenom who has been playing the instrument professionally for the majority of his twenty-three years. Jones and Nickel Creek met up again at the Merlefest bluegrass event earlier this year, after which his name came up as talk turned to touring behind Mutual Admiration Society. "It turns out he was interested," Thile says. "Now we're just trying to make the music interesting enough for him."

Thile's energy is boundless when it comes to making music, so it's no great surprise that he has another solo album in the hopper for an October release, and Nickel Creek have also been working on songs for their third album, which will likely see release next year. And he's also eager to see what another session with Phillips will yield, inspired by the fact that MAS has turned into a shape-shifting entity. "I think we share Glen's enthusiasm for this idea of a society that doesn't necessarily need to be defined by a strict lineup," he says. "We can make a record, we can tour, and various people can be involved as they see fit. There's no reason not to keep it going."

Mutual Admiration Society tour dates:

7/28: Portland, OR, Roseland Theater

7/29: San Francisco, The Independent

7/30: Anaheim, House of Blues

7/31: Los Angeles, The Roxy Theater

8/8: Minneapolis, Fine Line Music Cafe

8/9: Chicago, Metro

8/10: Cleveland, Beachland Ballroom

8/12: Boston, Paradise Club

8/13-14: New York, Bowery Ballroom

8/15: Charleston, WV, Mountain Stage

8/17: Lexington, VA, Theater at Lime Kiln

8/18-19: Alexandria, VA, Birchmere

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