By Bryan Rolli, special to the American-Statesman
“This is my favorite part of the night,” Dangerous Toys frontman Jason McMaster said with a smirk as he sauntered onstage at 10:59 p.m., one minute before the band’s designated start time. “We don’t even know if the gear works yet and I’m already talking shit!”
The healthy crowd inside Come and Take It Live (Grizzly Hall) roared with approval as McMaster’s bandmates took the stage and kicked off a raucous, 90-minute set that highlighted the Toys’ massive guitar riffs and devilish sense of humor. To call the quintet’s Saturday show a nostalgia trip is hardly an insult, but a requirement, given they haven’t released an album since 1995’s unfortunately titled “The R-Tist 4-Merly Known as Dangerous Toys.” The fans hugging the barricade who drove all the way from North Carolina didn’t come here for new material, a fact McMaster readily acknowledged when he told them, “You … already know the set list anyway.”
Though rarely mentioned alongside other Austin rockers who broke out of the city, Dangerous Toys rode the last wave of hair metal hysteria to modest national success. After drafting McMaster from local prog-metal quartet Watchtower in 1987, the band signed to Columbia Records and released their 1989 eponymous debut, which eventually went gold. Arena tours opening for the Cult, Judas Priest and Alice Cooper followed, but by the time they released 1991’s “Hellacious Acres,” the Toys found themselves caught in the eye of the grunge storm. Suddenly, the winking misogyny of “Sport’n a Woody” and “Teas’n, Pleas’n” seemed a lot less amusing.
It’s a shame, too, because those first two records explode with ear-splitting screams and sleazy, southern-fried riffs more akin to ZZ Top than Ratt. The band wisely mined those records for the majority of their annual hometown gig, showcasing the irreverent blues boogie of “Take Me Drunk” and sinister shredding on “Bones in the Gutter.”
Credit the Toys for aging far better than most of their poufy-haired peers, both physically and musically. Guitarists Scott Dalhover and Paul Lidel traded chunky riffs and nimble solos, the former in particular flexing his lead chops with lightning-fast sweeps and whammy bar acrobatics. Meanwhile, at 52, McMaster still sports a trim waistline and the same banshee wail that earned him Axl Rose comparisons several decades ago (even though any self-respecting fan could distinguish the two by their tattoos).
The frontman fed off the crowd’s energy, though he was quick to fact-check one diehard who claimed to have seen their album release party in Deep Ellum in 1987: “Nope. Album did not come out in ’87. But I like your candor!”
This cheeky sense of humor and self-awareness turned what could have easily been a warm and fuzzy walk down memory lane into a genuinely exciting rock show. Rather than act bitter about their fleeting success, Dangerous Toys seemed grateful for the opportunity to play to an appreciative audience. McMaster thanked fans profusely as he led them in a rousing sing-along on closing number “Scared,” which stretched to nearly 10 minutes.
“1989, some shit happened,” he said dismissively of the Toys’ Columbia deal, now more than half his lifetime ago. “We didn’t take it seriously. Thirty years later, we get to milk the shit out of it!”