1920 Mass. Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140, 617-497-4950
July 18, 2005
This is the kind of neighborhood bar that wraps its arms around you as soon as you walk in the door. Maybe it’s the warm woody tones of the bar, or the crimson wainscoting and rose-colored rag rolled walls, giving it an aura of one’s first home in the womb. Or the friendly bear of a bartender who as the evening matures is calmly mixing cocktails and pouring drafts with an economy of movement and conversation for a steadily growing crowd.
This is a quintessential neighborhood watering hole where, in the deepening twilight of a summer’s Monday night, you might see couples playing scrabble from the bar’s game collection or friends getting caught up on the day’s events or a few solitary folks who drink in the atmosphere with as much need as they have for the pints they cup in their hands. You’ve just entered Toad, a matchbox of a bar in Porter Square on Mass Ave. Cambridge.
I’ve made my first pilgrimage to Toad on a whim to hear live music. My curiosity trumped my skepticism when I first read the name of the band I’d come to see. Considering the outcome, maybe I should trust my curiosity more often. “Shwang”, featuring Anita Suhanin, is a terrific quartet whose covers of an astonishing range of songs are anything but generic. Anita makes her home in the middle registers and compensates for her range by uniquely styling the bejesus out of her selections, which run from jazz chestnuts like ‘I'm Down To My Last Cigarette’ to the Everly Brothers ‘Bye Bye Love’ to Ronnie Spector’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, to Johnny Cash’s ‘I Still Miss Someone’.
Trust me, if her sweet vibrato isn't enough for you, her band kicks out the jambs with its creative solos from saxophone to lead guitar, ably supported by bass and drums. The sax riffs are clever, laid back to sassy, and the guitar guy sounds like Duane Eddy with a degree from Berklee.
By the time Anita and Shwang have hit their groove, the 20something to fiftysomething patrons are either swaying (shwanging?) in their seats or boogying freestyle as they stand. A few patrons are attempting conversations over the music. It’s beyond me how people can ignore the jammin' going on around them but hey, it’s a democracy in this pub and “chacun a son gout” as they say in France.
By the time Tim Gearon’s band comes on around 10:30 pm, the tiny place has achieved lift off. Standing room only, the smells of beer and whiskey and summer sweat permeate the air. The acoustics are like hail storm on a tin roof and I'm shouting for another Sierra Nevada Pale.
Check out their web site at http://toadcambridge.com