Todd Snider at Bluebird Theater, 10/19/13
Todd Snider didn't skimp on stories at his show at the Bluebird Theater. Before "Ballad of Devil's Backbone Tavern," he told us how his nephew is getting into singing and songwriting. Apparently he had told Snider that he didn't sing a lot of his songs so much as speak them, and the nephew wondered if there was an example of that with other songwriters. Snider said he played his nephew "Alice's Restaurant."
As he told the story, he was playing the chords, which happened to be the same chords for his own song, which he went into while weaving in the lyrics of "Alice's Restaurant" to illustrate the brazen level of his artistic theft. Once he was done, he told us he's much less obvious about stealing music these days. It was that kind of show, flowing masterfully, with Snider making no bones about its looseness.
One of the best stories of the night came before, what else, "Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican." Before naming the song, Snider told us this story would go well with the song because he had grown up in the kind of conservative, right wing family that was rah-rah team and competitive the way we're all "supposed" to be in this country -- annoyingly aggressively so.
Snider also mentioned how he played football because his dad wanted him to, despite Snider's complete lack of ability in the sport. But on one fateful day, Snider was at practice pushing the plow-like tackling device when saw a bunch of kids hanging out dressed in every day clothes in a field. The coach said he'd hate to see him become one of those "burnouts in the smoke pit."
Snider was at lunch sometime later, he remembered, and one of those "burnouts" sat next to him, and the subject of psychedelic mushrooms came up, at which Snider naturally decided to try them. Afterward, the goal posts became roman candles and a figure on the plow-like device turned out to be Fred Sanford, from Sanford & Son, and he spoke to Snider. It was then that Snider knew he'd never go to football practice again.
During "Stuck on the Corner," someone threw a rose on to the stage, presumably intending it to land well, but it pegged Snider in the head. In as close to John Prine fashion as possible, Snider seemed to note this and didn't otherwise react; instead he faced forward, smiled brightly and performed a much-beloved version of "D.B. Cooper."
Snider had split the show into two sets, the first an hour long, the second, just over that with a half hour break between. The most extensive storytelling came near the end of the second set when Snider treated us to a handful of anecdotes of his time playing and hanging out with his hero Jerry Jeff Walker.
Apparently, Snider played with Walker in the '80s at one point, and a woman came up to Walker and told him how much she loved his music. She told him how amazing he was, and how Snider was next best. Then the woman told Walker she was going to use him as a prop against which Snider would sign the poster. Snider told Walker how it a dream to be able to play with his hero, and with the stranger being so excited to see them both, he noted how that moment was a high point in his life, to which Walker said, "Pretty boring life so far."
After Walker and Snider became friends, and Snider shared a story in which Walker invited him to go snorkeling in Belize. Snider went out and put on the gear and fell backward into the water. He didn't see an amazing coral reef, but he did see twelve sharks and some sting rays. Walker evidently told him to swim toward the boat, at which point the sharks scattered. It was a practical joke. The sharks were tame, apparently, as they were part of a farm.
Snide related another story in which the two were hanging out after a show. Snider had his semi-legendary tackle box filled with the drugs that people gave him in his travels. At the time, someone had gifted Snider a good deal of cocaine. Walker asked what was in the box, and Snider told him. Walker said he didn't do that drug anymore, even though in the '70s, Walker was sometimes called "Mr. Blowjangles," in parody of his famous song.
Snider apparently convinced Walker to do some cocaine with him, and as Snider didn't really do cocaine, he had no gauge of how much was "enough." He woke up later and heard someone pacing and saying, "Never again." He opened his eyes and saw Jerry Jeff Walker's balls -- Walker slept in the nude, evidently. This vision, Snider told us, is one of the things that keeps him from doing cocaine.
Snider finished off the Jerry Jeff stories by relating to us an anecdote in which he and Walker were hanging out in Santa Fe. The two were drinking at a bar until three a.m. when they walked out into the empty Santa Fe streets and heard the strains of "Mr. Bojangles" coming from around the corner. There an old man sat with a guitar playing the song, thinking no one could hear it.
When he was done, apparently, Walker told him it was pretty good. Snider wanted to tell the man, "Hey, the guy that wrote that song is here right now!" But he didn't. Nor did Walker. When they were alone, Snider told Walker, "Isn't that amazing to randomly run into a guy playing your song at three in the morning in Santa Fe? That kind of made my life." To which Walker, replied, "Pretty boring life so far." Following that, Snider played a fantastic rendition of "Mr. Bojangles."
At the end of the second set, Snider brought Chad Staehly and George Boedecker, Jr., both involved with Hard Working Americans, on stage to perform "Alright Guy." After retreating briefly, Snider came back for a two song encore, including a delicate and excellent cover of "Helpless" by Neil Young with Desirae Garcia of the Haunted Windchimes, who opened the show.
After that, he brought the drums forward and only used them as an accompaniment for his vocals on a lively take on "Sideshow Blues." With a curiously paradoxical subtlety, Snider kept the show going with a great deal of variety that he didn't make obvious; he just went for it, whether it was the style, pacing or instrumentation in a song.
The opening act was Pueblo's The Haunted Windchimes. The five piece seemed to be sharing one broad angle condenser mic to capture and project the music it made. From the fantastic harmonies between all the singers to the acoustic instruments, the mic did a good job translating truly organic music to a bigger room.
Beyond that, this band had obviously already worked out its dynamics and volumes so its music could translate to any environment. The outfit was very much styled after the "old-timey" music one heard in pre-'60s-era folk and blues, but it was handled with a bit of energy and richness.
Bluebird Theater - 10/19/13
0. Play a Train Song
02. If Tomorrow Never Comes
04. Good Fortune
05. Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican
06. Ballad of Devil's Backbone Tavern
07. Is this Thing Working?
10. Stuck on the Corner
11. D.B. Cooper
12. Too Soon To Tell
13. Statistician's Blues
14. West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown
15. The Devil You Know
16. Don't It Make You Wanna Dance
17. East Nashville Skyline
18. Mr. Bojangles
19. Alright Guy
20. Helpless [Neil Young cover]
21. Sideshow Blues
Personal Bias: Todd's stories, organically developed sense of compassion and sharp humor is an inspiration.
Random Detail: There were peace signs on Todd Snider's merch T-shirts. He really is a hippie. Thanks goodness.
By the Way: Todd will be back with Chad Staehly and George Boedecker, Jr. at Boedecker Hall in Boulder on December 20 performing with his band, Hard Working Americans.
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