Words and pix by Caroline Schwarz
Unlike a lot of Todd Snider shows, tonight’s is remarkably faithful to what is written out on the set list in advance. Though he will skip the two ‘classic rock’ set closers that are on the list – Freebird and Stairway To Heaven – they are superfluous, as this show IS a classic rock show, Todd Snider style!
As soon as he hits the stage he declares to the enthusiastic crowd, “I ain’t gonna fuck around tonight, I’m just gonna do good shit!” An unusual introduction, perhaps, but it quickly becomes clear what he means and intends. Though I cannot overstate how much I love the new songs (and indeed I would have been more than a little sad to have none of them played tonight had this been my only show), here at the last of five shows for me this tour, and the last of 110 for Todd and crew this year, in the historic, lauded Gruene Hall where Todd has been playing all these years and first saw Jerry Jeff Walker from the front row (much more on that later), what we get tonight feels perfect. If there’s a time and a place for a classic, throwback, old school Todd show, it’s tonight and here!
We get a show sandwiched between Beer Run and (other than the nightly treat of the encore duet on Jackson with ‘sofa king’ entertaining Raelyn Nelson) Conservative Christian, with a tasty filling that includes Alright Guy, Ballad Of The Kingsmen, D.B. Cooper, Stuck On The Corner, Too Soon To Tell, Can’t Complain… songs that, if you’ve seen Todd, you’ve seen before; and if you’ve seen Todd a lot, you’ve seen these songs a lot of times! But that’s what tonight’s about: the familiar, singalong, laugh-along, shout-along songs that we all know and adore. And they are all the best performances of any of ’em that I’ve heard, with many leaving Todd breathless and the crowd yelling for more. Two breathers from the classic rockers are a gorgeously rendered Roman Candles on which Todd attacks both the lyrics and the guitar with a supreme intensity made somehow more powerful by the bit of restraint he throws in; and the one solicited audience request of the night, a languorously, humorously drawled Double Wide Blues, which Todd prefaces with, “You gotta sing it with me if I do, though.” At this point in the night he doesn’t really need to ask that of this crowd! We get an update to one of the lines late in the song: “I sit here watchin’ all this nothin’ go on. Shit, I don’t get out much since… terrorism I guess. Try to keep to myself. If I see something, I’ll say something.”
Yes, it’s a fun and energetic night of crowd-pleasers and, as is equally obvious, Todd-pleasers. After Looking For A Job, he pauses to thank us for letting him play all his ‘favorite ones’ and then says this next one might be his ‘oldest favorite’ as he launches into a deep and gritty Easy Money, complete with a round of, “I know it’s only rock n roll but I like it, like it, yes I do!” on which we all sing heartily along.
But Todd’s very favorite song is swapped in for those classic cover songs previously mentioned: Mr. Bojangles, preceded by, I shit you not, every Jerry Jeff Walker story that I’ve ever heard and then some, in hilarious and affectionate succession. From first watching him wide-eyed from these very seats and deciding that this is what he wanted to do; to the first ‘highlight of my life’ story back stage with a drunk chick in Memphis; to swimming with sharks in Belize; to Jerry Jeff’s balls in New Orleans; to another ‘highlight of my life’ encounter with the street musician in Santa Fe; to right back here, with this song on this night that Jerry Jeff, we find out, has been named to the Texas Songwriters Hall Of Fame. Todd sends it out warmly to Jerry Jeff, “wherever you are tonight, thank you for all that great music.” It’s a perfect ending to a perfect night of a perfect weekend.
Good shit. Just might-a been a highlight of my life.