Todd Snider, The Vogue Theater, Indianapolis, IN – 3/14
I have seen Todd Snider perform several times over the last two decades or so. He was a perennial opening act for John Prine back in the 90’s and 00’s and I’m a Prine junkie. I also saw him play “city stages” type festival events on several occasions. These performances called for short sets and, in the case of opening, a courteous warm up, not stealing any thunder from the headliner. I enjoyed these shows, somewhat offhand, running for a beer making sure I would be back for the obligatory finale “B Double E Double R U N, Beer Run” with the Robert Earl Keen reference. I always loved hearing Snider do that live. I still do.
Even though I had heard him several times, I never heard him as the main act, the headliner. I jumped at the chance when a friend invited me to the join him for Todd Sniders show at the Vogue Theater in the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis, IN last week. I was anxious to see him reach his stride in a full blown set.
We arrived early for the show so as to get a good seat in the sold out venue with a capacity crowd of 450. Snider took the stage playing “Greencastle Blues” on his black Gibson Jumbo. I started smiling and the only time I was not smiling the rest of the evening was when I was laughing out loud. What I didn’t realize, what I had forgotten maybe, is that he is not only a clever and astute songwriter, he is a very funny man. It was two shows in one, one half singer/songwriter and one half stand up comedian. Snider has a unique ability to tell his funny stories in a rhythm and meter that transitions into the next song. His format made the evening not only interesting but, also, just a really, really good time.
He finished his great song, “Tension,” then told the story of his first open mic night in Austin, Texas. He said he signed up and looked at the name of the guy on the list playing right before him so he would hear that name and know he was up next. Everyone sounded just like him up until the guy in front of him, who played like a professional. He tried to get moved down the list he didn’t want to follow a great act, but “nothing doing”. After he finished his three songs he decided to ask the guy who had played before him how to do that for a living. The guy told him that he had to get a lot better. So Todd asked him “How do I get better?” The guy responded, “You have to live your life so that, at any given moment, you can pack up all your stuff and get out of town in 15 minutes or less.” So, Snider said, “I made a vow, right then and there, that I would live such a screwed up life that I could pack up my stuff and split in 15 minutes or less.” The humor is in the telling, of course, but, trust me, it was very, very funny.
Snider has hammered out a living for nearly three decades, a good one, it seems, if the number of dates he plays are the measure in a crowded genre of the singer/songwriter where so many artists try to write like Townes Van Zant but just haven’t got the soul or the demons to pull it off. Although having deep roots in Texas, now living in Nashville, Snider goes a different direction. His is a comedic, but cerebral, stoner banter intermixed with subtle political commentary and spot on social discourse like in his songs “Is This Working” or “Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males” and even “Statisticians Blues.” He makes a point of telling the audience, though, “If you think you hear anything political in his songs it was unintentional. I’m only trying to make it rhyme.”
In his second set, Snider got to “B Double E Double R U N” and the crowd loved it. He told the story of the song and embellished it with a self deprecating one of having played it so many times. He then instructed his audience through his song “Enjoy Yourself” which transitioned into a story of a mean girlfriend who was always picking at him for no good reason other than “he was a pot smoking, porn watching lazy hippie who couldn’t keep a job.” He just got back, he said, from a session in the park playing guitar with his buddies and this girl said she was going to sell his guitar and they were going to find him a real job tomorrow. He thought for a minute and then he said to himself, “Todd Snider, you can pack all your stuff and be out of town in 15 minutes.” After a good laugh from the audience, he finished his show with “Sideshow Blues”. I will certainly check his tour dates regularly and try to see him as he comes to a neighborhood nearby.
I read last week that Snider is warming up the audience for the Tedeschi Trucks Band on September 20th at the Beacon Theater in New York City. I am envious of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. They are going to be standing in the wings of the stage watching and listening to the songs and comedy of Todd Snider. And they are going to have a really, really good time.