I usually like to bring newbies to Todd Snider shows, like I was brought by a friend and colleague back in March of 2002, and two at our table were newcomers to Snider. Unfortunately, they got an experience that was unlike any Todd Snider show I'd ever been to before; from almost the opening song, there was a weird vibe between artist and crowd. In fact, immediately after the opening song in Snider's set -- his winsome "My Some Good Fortune Come to You" -- the crowd began shouting out requests to him. Now, Snider shows are often freewheeling events, but it seemed doing it that soon was kinda rude. And Snider thought so, too, glancing in that direction and saying, "I appreciate the enthusiasm, but, don't worry, I got this."
The crowd continued to talk and shout through the next song as well, so during the next break, Snider called them out more, especially a guy right in the front row, who was clearly drunk and, although I couldn't see/hear the interaction too much from where I was, Snider said to him something to the effect of, "It's cool if you want to talk to me the whole time while I'm singing, but can you go to a different part of the room? It's going to be weird now." The guy indicated he'd be on his best behavior, but by the next song or so, Snider had asked him to be removed. Snider took a brief break while security removed the guy, but when he came back, he was clearly rattled.
There were still great moments. I got goosebumps during "Play a Train Song". I'd never heard "Enjoy Yourself" and, cliched as it sounds, it made me want to book a trip and made me so regretful of not traveling more last summer (it also made me glad I'd sprung for concert tickets). His "Looking for a Job" captures working class braggadocio perfectly: "Watch what you say to someone with nothing to lose / It's almost like having it all." One of my favorites, "D.B. Cooper", totally rocked.
And the highlight of the show was when he got into his storytelling a bit. He spent 10 or 15 minutes telling his Jerry Jeff Walker story, which I'd heard variations of before, the one when he and Jerry Jeff (who is the one who taught Snider "the difference between a free loader and a free spirit are three fucking chords") had been out drinking one night in some city and they came across a lone busker playing Walker's seminal "Mister Bojangles" to "the moon and the stars and no one else." I'm not doing the story -- hilarious and transcendent in Snider's words -- justice at all, of course; maybe you should think about getting Snider's new book, I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like: Mostly True Tall Tales. Snider capped off the story with a performance of "Mister Bojangles", a beautiful moment.
But things still felt off, and Snider never really seemed to recover from the earlier interaction with the crowd and the one heckler up front. He forgot the lyrics to "Ballad of the Devil's Backbone Tavern", humming the last couple of verses, and, judging from his apologies, probably did it a couple of other times as well (I love the Devil's Backbone song, so I definitely noticed it for that one). His "Beer Run" was sleepy. It seemed like he was trying to go back to his standards to get his mojo back, but he just couldn't. He profusely apologized throughout the show, eventually saying, "Guys, I gave it my best, but I'm going to play a couple more songs and get out of here. If anyone wants their money back, I'm okay with that." He had played around 90 minutes (9pm - 10:30), which is pretty standard for a soloist folk show, and I doubt that anyone asked for their money back. But it was a strange show, and seeing an artist I love toil away apologetically onstage was a little tough at times. Sadly, Snider had a ton of instruments onstage, including a banjo, but he only used his regular acoustic guitar; he never even pulled out his harmonica. There was no reading excerpts out of his new book, which I'd expected, and there was no encore, even though the audience tried its best to call him back out onstage.
We still laughed a lot, and I still had a great time, and I still can't wait to see him again. Everyone has off nights. As a teacher, I can related to feeling rattled after a bad interaction with my audience, so I'm sympathetic. And I think Snider is too authentic to try to fake his way through a show, and he just couldn't. After a canceled gig at Ram's Head Annapolis in January, though, I sure hope he comes back to the Baltimore area sometime soon.
|Bobby Bare, Jr.|
It was my first time going to the Baltimore Soundstage, which opened fairly recently in a spot right across from Power Plant Live, a corner location that has had several different incarnations over the years, most recently Iguana Cantina (I think). It was a completely seated show, which I think was unusual for the club, and really a perfect venue for a Snider show. I purchased a 4-seat table worth of tickets for $157, a little pricey, but still under $40/ticket for seats that were pretty incredible. Beers were $10/each, so everything about the nice was a little pricey, although the price of parking was $14 off the $24 fee with validation. Split by 4 people, all in all it wasn't too bad, especially since I go to about 2 or 3 concerts a year these days.
All in all, this was a strange show, but a good one.