Live Review: The Connells + Tonk @ Cats Cradle – September 17th 2022

We last checked in with North Carolina’s indie rock stalwarts, The Connells, back in October of last year when they played to a packed house at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro NC.  At the time, the band were celebrating the release of their ninth studio album, Steadman’s Wake, their first new album in two decades.  Since then, the album has garnered favorable reviews from fans and critics alike, and the band continued to tour through the Spring and Summer.  They recently announced a few Fall dates, including a return to Cat’s Cradle to play for a friendly hometown crowd this past Saturday night.

The weekend was in full swing and Saturday night had everyone in a good mood. The crowd milling around in the Cradle was once again peppered with family, friends, and a diverse group of fans both young and old.  It was notable just how many of those in attendance had not even been born when the Connells were hitting their stride through the mid-80s and into the 1990s, proving that their jangle pop and indie rock sound has stood the test of time, continuing to draw new fans.

The evening got underway with a short but well received set of old school country from fellow North Carolinians, Tonk.  While on the surface Tonk might seem like an odd stylistic choice to open for the poppy indie rock of the Connells, the crowd seemed to appreciate and enjoy the rowdy honky-tonk influenced songs.  The applause got even louder when the band was joined by Connells lead singer Doug MacMillan for a song.

After a short turnover and set up, the Connells hit the stage sounding as powerful and confident as ever, and they wasted no time setting the feel-good mood for the rest of the evening.  The band consisting of Doug MacMillan on vocals, brothers Mike and David Connell on guitar/vocals and bass respectively, Mike Ayers on guitar, Steve Potak on keys, and Rob Ladd behind the drum kit, played through a setlist that mixed a healthy dose of songs from Steadman’s Wake with fan favorites from across their catalog including a dip all the way back to 1985’s Darker Days for a spirited version of “Hats Off”.  Despite the lack of steady constant touring and recording, the band was firing on all cylinders and their playing was solid.  Lead singer Doug MacMillan may move a little slower than he did back in the 80’s (Don’t we all…), but his voice still there in force, delivering each song at full throttle.  The crowd was completely enthralled, cheering loudly and dancing through the entire performance.  At times it was hard to tell who was happier, the crowd or the band.  The smiles were shared equally on the floor and on the stage, with Mike Connell often addressing the room between songs, telling the crowd how happy the band was to be playing and how grateful they were for the fans in attendance and reception they were receiving.     

The performance and the mood continued to build throughout the set, hitting its apex on the home stretch, with an inspired run-in.  “Hats Off,” into “Too Gone,” into “Stone Cold Yesterday,” ended the set before the band came back for a knockout blow with an encore of “Something to Say” and “Fun & Games”.  It was obvious that the Connells have not lost a step over the years.  The spark, the fun, the damn fine songs… They are all still there in abundance, making for a great Saturday night.

The Connells and Tonk @ Cat’s Cradle
Photos © Dan Kulpa // Clashdan Photography // @clashdan

  1. Great review! We were there, and it was a great concert, great fun! The Connells definitely still have ‘it.’

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