The day after Valentine’s Day, Todd Snider held a solo acoustic lovefest in a friendly little bar called Marilyn’s on K in downtown Sacramento.
When Snider took the stage at about 8:45pm, a 21+ crowd ranging from frat boys to grizzled bar band veterans to lots and lots of middle-aged couples welcomed him with an outpouring of sincere enthusiasm and adoration that would last for the rest of the night. For about an hour and 40 minutes, Snider held court like the best shoeless showman the world has ever known. He made holding the audience rapt with well-spun stories and songs soaked through with his trademark brand of wry, compassionate humor seem like the easiest thing in the world, certainly a testament to all the road time he has logged in the 15 years since his debut album arrived in 1994.
Less than halfway into the show, Snider switched over to a by-request format. Judging from the diversity of the requests being called out, there were lots of serious Todd Snider fans in attendance. (In fact, as I waited outside the venue beforehand, it seemed that I was one of the few there for my first show.) From those requests, he strung together a well-balanced show that made room for ravers like “Devil You Know” and “Incarcerated,” moments of quiet poignancy like “Fortunate Son” and “Waco Moon,” and mid-tempo Snider classics like “Alright Guy,” “Beer Run,” and “Doublewide Blues” that turned into group singalongs the right way, without any additional prodding from the performer.
Expect fine guitar-picking and harmonica-blowing, but one of the real attractions of a Todd Snider show is all the stories and assorted Toddisms sprinkled throughout. From meeting a shirtless Slash of Guns N’ Roses in a hotel bar to watching a well-off guy flip out at a drive-thru window (the genesis of “Stuck on the Corner”) to reflections on Michael Phelps and bongs (“When everyone found out, they thought ‘Well, I guess we misjudged that boy.’ Nobody thought ‘Well, I guess we misjudged bong hits.'”) There were also timely lyric changes. Where the speaker of “Doublewide Blues” previously didn’t get out much since O.J. came on (the song was written in the mid ’90s), now it’s Blagojevich. Where Snider once sat around his house looking at pictures of Madonna naked (in “Alright Guy”), he now sits around looking at pictures of his tour manager Elvis naked. Or so he says. [Dave ‘Elvis’ Hixx, who doubled as Snider’s roadie, was watching the show from the side of the stage.]
By the time he encored with “The Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern” and the old standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” – and called up Elvis to do a few lines of “Don’t Be Cruel” in between – it was around 10:30, late enough for a Sunday night, though there were few signs of restlessness in the crowd. If Snider had decided to play straight through the night, I don’t think anyone would have minded. Oh well. See you next time, Todd.
Opener Ashleigh Flynn (Myspace) began by promising to turn some Todd Snider fans into Ashleigh Flynn fans and offered a strong set of self-penned tunes that went a long way toward making it happen. With a voice like a roootsier Norah Jones and stage banter that got better as her 30-minute set proceeded, Flynn proved herself a confident, capable songstress deserving of a wider audience.
SETLIST: Slim Chance / Tillamook County Jail / Fortunate Son / ? / Just Like Old Times / Devil You Know / Alcohol and Pills / D.B. Cooper / Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues / Horseshoe Lake / Play a Train Song / Alright Guy / Beer Run / Iron Mike’s Main Man’s Last Request / The Ballad of the Kingsmen / Stuck on the Corner / Doublewide Blues / Waco Moon / Conservative Christian… / Incarcerated / Good Fortune / ENCORE: Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern / Don’t Be Cruel [Elvis] / Will the Circle Be Unbroken
VIDEO: Here’s a video from the show. After explaining that he plays the song so infrequently that people assume he must be sick of it, Snider launches into an extended rendition of “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues” that acknowledges his indebtedness to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie: