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Big Head Todd rise above many ’90s rockers

Loyal fans set to pack Clyde Theatre to see band that has adapted

Big Head Todd & The Monsters have amassed a loyal following over the past three decades. The band will be at The Clyde Theatre on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published January 11, 2023

Big Head Todd & The Monsters are just about sure to sell out The Clyde Theatre on Tuesday, Jan. 17. 

They’re one of those few rock bands that hit their stride early and have kept it going for decades, weathering the changes in the music industry and keeping their fans engaged. 

Reaching fans

Lead singer and guitarist Todd Park Mohr, drummer Brian Nevin on drums, and bassist Rob Squires met in high school in Denver in the 1980s, formed the band in college, and have played together ever since. Keyboardist, guitarist, and pedal steel player Jeremy Lawton has been in the band 20 years. 

They’ve kept Denver as their home base and still headline the colossal Red Rocks Amphitheatre every year. 

Their first two albums, 1989’s Another Mayberry and 1990’s Midnight Radio were on Big Records before their major-label run started with Warner Records. The 1993 million-selling Sister Sweetly served up hits “Bittersweet” and “Broken Hearted Savior” which defined their sound and style. Even the titles of those songs convey the sense of melancholy balanced against hopefulness that characterize much of Mohr’s songwriting. His voice can be warm and smoky, but it has a rough edge in the high register which he uses to expressive effect. Developing his guitar skills is something he’s still doing in his 50s.

Throughout the ’90s, the Monsters found themselves in the jam band circuit, including the massive H.O.R.D.E. festivals, joining bands like Blues Traveler, Phish, and the Dave Matthews Band, even though the Monsters’ music has always been about concise pop song form and not protracted improvisation. There’s enough energy and spontaneity in their stage performances, though, that they have released a couple of live albums each decade.

When the nature of the music business changed with the advent of the internet in the late ’90s, the Monsters found new ways to reach their loyal fans. For example, for 20 years they’ve played for the fans on chartered riverboats. Their September 2023 eight-day cruise up the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, is already sold out. (If you would like Whatzup to pay for me to cover next year’s cruise, email my editor.)

Disappointing returns

Whatzup interviewed Mohr in our Oct. 31, 2019, issue when the band last played Fort Wayne, also at The Clyde. He had a singular perspective on the band’s career. He was disappointed that their previous decade worth of critically well-received albums had proven financially unrewarding. These included two outstanding historic tributes to Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon, recorded with elder statesmen of Chicago and Delta blues, many of whom have since passed on. But Mohr was also talking about the Monsters’ 2017 return to rock form, the uplifting New World Arisin’, their most recent record.

At the time, Mohr told us, “We’re still interested in being creative and releasing music … But I’m not sure about albums anymore.”

Since 2018, they have put out a steady stream of singles with music videos free on their website. They called it Monsters Music Monthly, and kept it going through the pandemic. The singles can be found on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keeping up with the times

When I got Mohr on the phone this time around, my first question was whether the song-a-month model remained their only plan. 

“No, it isn’t,” he said. 

It was a great business model and a means to keep their fans connected, but recently, “We kind of just felt inwardly, emotionally, that we wanted to make another record, which is a great reason to want to do that,” Mohr said. “We have about 14 songs that we’ve been pacing out, and hopefully by this time next year we’ll be talking about how cool that vinyl sounds.”

More than a decade ago, learning the techniques of the lone blues singers who accompanied themselves on acoustic guitar gave Mohr a new perspective, and these days he can present himself as a solo performer, too. 

“But I’m really into rock n’ roll and original music, so I don’t have the blues all the time,” he said. “It’s one of those things that’s just really always a flame, but it’s not the whole picture.”

Since 2019, it seems Mohr has adopted a different outlook: less idealistic and more workman-like, and that’s going to carry the band forward. 

“I’ve been having a lot of fun writing,” he said. “COVID gave me a great opportunity to spend a lot of time writing, and I’ve been working from a lot of different themes. There’s songs that are sort of biographical, with themes throughout American history. I have a song about baseball: pop culture-type things. But obviously with music and with lyrics, you’re an artist and you are trying to address your listener and help that person out. So hopefully something positive does come through. 

“Essentially, yeah, I think you have to address the times, and we’re in divided times, but they’ve always been divided,” he added. “Not much has changed from a blues standpoint or a musical standpoint. And to have your finger on the pulse of human conflict is really so important if you’re an artist and you want to be relevant.”

Despite their enviable longevity, Mohr insists he and the band never had a grand plan. 

“It just sort of worked out that way,” he said. “We struggled with albums just because it’s very expensive to market it the way you think it would deserve to be. And the payoffs just become so limited. So we just felt like we have to go for whatever connects to people.

Speaking of this tour, Mohr has a message for the band’s fans.

“Obviously, people come expecting their favorite songs,” he said. “We’ve had successful albums like Sister Sweetly. We’re going to be playing our hits, and that takes about a third of the show. And then we have a lot of our albums that we go through every day to pick out a fresh set list, and then we have new songs. Not more than two covers a night, because we’ve got a lot of material to service. It’s a nice balance. And I think people like the whole show, even though there’s stuff that they haven’t heard.”

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