Todd Snider at The Haunt ~ Ithaca, N.Y. ~ March 11, 2012
Todd Snider has, in his own words, “been drivin’ around the country for the past 15 years, playin’ and singin’ my songs to anyone who would listen.” It seems that I’ve been wanting to see him play live for over half that long, but he never seemed to play anywhere nearby. So when promoter Dan Smalls booked him at The Haunt in Ithaca, N.Y. I ran to buy tickets like my pants were on fire. Never mind that the gig was on a Sunday night at a bar where I knew I’d be standing in the same spot for almost three hours. While that never used to bother me back in my more free wheeling days, it gave me cause to pause. I like to think I’ve mellowed and “age like wine” like the character from his song by the same name, and I wondered if I’d have the grit and stamina for it. Turns out I did, and then some. The Haunt couldn’t have been a better place to catch Todd Snider as he came through Ithaca with his three piece band on a spring-like Sunday night in early March. I thought back to all of the fabulous shows I had seen at the old Haunt in the alley on Green Street, and this turned out to be every bit as good as any one of those; hands down.
Portland based Ashleigh Flynn opened with a forty minute set that featured many of the songs from her most current release, American Dream. Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, she delivered a fast moving set that was lean and spare in its simplicity, yet lush and rich in content and presence. She writes extraordinary songs about ordinary people who live humble, but authentic lives. It’s Americana songwriting at its best, with stories that have the arc of a novel in a four minute song and leave you feeling like you actually know the characters. She played a solid set and she’s definitely worth checking out.
I don’t know if Todd Snider has ever had his “smilin’ face on the cover of the Rollin’ Stone”, but he has been steadily gathering a dedicated following of hardcore fans who know he’s the real deal. The folks at The Haunt were no exception. People showed up expecting to see him play; and play, he did. Although his studio albums are collaborations with other musicians, I had the impression that he’s spent a large part of his touring career going solo. Even though I knew he was playing with a band this time out, I guess I expected him to play acoustic guitar and mix it up with periods of the storytelling for which he is so well known and much loved. Not gonna happen, but that’s OK. He launched into his set on electric guitar and didn’t put it down all night. His sound was ragged, snarly and gritty and solidly anchored by an East Nashville rhythm section on bass and drums. Overall, they played like a classic power trio. I expected it to be a high energy show, but I had no idea this guy could rock as hard as he does. Snider and the boys exploded out of the gate with a scorcher and rolled right on through with a blazing, nonstop 90 minute set that worked the crowd into a lather, rocked the house right off its foundation, and left my ears ringing just like the old days.
While he drew heavily from his latest release, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables, he also played lots of old favorites, including several from his watershed 2004 release, East Nashville Skyline. As good as his songwriting is, he covers other artists’ songs with so much authentic heart and soul you’d swear they are his own. One of those was a gritty version of the Fred Eaglesmith classic, Alcohol and Pills that got everybody in the place singing along. After The Ballad of the Kingsmen from that same album, which is a story within a story that uses the Kingsmen classic as the centerpiece, he launched into a raucous cover of the actual song Louie Louie that sounded like the ultimate garage band on steroids. One of his encore numbers was a boisterous cover of the Chuck Berry classic, School Day, which had us all shouting out the refrain “Hail hail rock and roll” at the top of our lungs and pogo dancing.
Snider’s show was a nonstop thrill ride of songs for everyman. His work is a subversive celebration of the whole catastrophe, from the sublime to the ridiculous; a rebellious and irreverent reflection on modern culture and society. His poignant stories of marginal characters are filled with humane compassion, absurd hilarity, acerbic wit, and wry observations of human nature. To quote him from his own official website (http://www.toddsnider.net/home.cfm) “I want to inspire people,” Snider says. “I want to inspire them to leave home, to do things traditionally considered wrong. If you listen to my record and vandalize your school, godspeed.”
If you get a chance to catch him on this tour, do it. You won’t be sorry. Before the night is over, you’ll be pogo dancing and singing along to every song.