Todd Snider | 03.10.07

sniderDespite his obvious disdain for the loud, boorish conversations that persisted through the entire show, Snyder carried himself professionally, playing for over an hour and a half and doing an encore—though it was short and perfunctory.

 

Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, St Louis

I will admit that I have never come to fully understand the appeal of buying concert tickets for the pleasure of having loud background music playing while engaging in drunkenly shouted conversations with friends and/or strangers. Proving that I don't have a monopoly on wisdom, a significant minority of the audience at Todd Snider's concert in Blueberry Hill's Duck Room on Saturday night seemed to intuitively understand it.

By his own account, Snider is a "tree-hugging, peace-loving, pot-smoking, bare-footing, folk-singing hippie." He's at his best when he mediates between examining his own psyche and the outside world, as when he sung in the setlist's opening song, "Side Show Blues": "It's hard to kick the door down when you don't wear no shoes." While his newest album, The Devil You Know, initially feels less personal than his 2004 masterpiece, East Nashville Skyline, it contains some of the most incisive commentaries on the contemporary world that he has ever written. Especially "Looking For a Job"—which might be the best job-quitting song ever written—and the title track—which illustrates that fact there is "a war going on that the poor can't win" simply with the sight of "helicopters over the house again."

He also enjoys talking to an audience and telling stories in prose as well as verse. About six songs into the set, he began a story about the creation of "If Tomorrow Never Comes," the first track off the new album. It was a story that would have involved Garth Brooks, Nashville songwriting teams, royalties, and plagiarism charges, delivered in his inimitable and hilarious drawl. But in the initial telling some audience members who felt that the story was a dialogue instead of a monologue distracted him into exasperation. After trying unsuccessfully to start over, he finally skipped over the setup and around the punch line to launch into a related but comparatively uninteresting tangent, his song "Beer Run," about…well, a run for beer.

"Beer Run" quotes Robert Earl Keen's mantra that "the road goes on forever and the party never ends," though in its context Saturday night, it seemed to serve as much a rebuttal of wanton hedonism as an outright celebration. There's a duality to Snider's work. He's a hellraiser but the smartest and most sensitive man in the room. Or as he put it, "Hey, I like to get drunk before these shows, too, but I don't like getting yelled at." He let us know that he ran through "Beer Run" twice so that "next time you don't have to come."

After that brief trainwreck, he never attempted to tell a story or talk to the audience at all. He shut down emotionally. The performances of the rest of the set were rote performances, oft devoid of the liveliness and empathy that characterizes his best work. It wasn't obvious—or rather, it wasn't obvious enough to those who needed to get the message. It was in total a good concert. His talent is immense enough that even while functioning as little more than a karaoke singer of his own songs he can emotionally connect with an audience. That was especially evident in his performances of "The Devil You Know," "Horseshoe Lake," and "All That Matters to Me," which were intensely resonant to those listening. And despite his obvious disdain for the loud, boorish conversations that persisted through the entire show, he did carry himself professionally, playing for over an hour and a half and doing an encore—though it was short and perfunctory.

I don't mean to say that there is anything wrong with having fun at a concert. And certainly Snider's work is a celebration of rejecting the hell of life's vicissitudes for some enjoyment in the here and now. Some words with friends and some drinks at a show in the smoky basement of a bar can be damn near essential to keeping sane. But in total, it was a shame that the loutishness and insensitivity of some in the audience could drive a conscious, caring, and talented artist away from striving for transcendence. | Brad Proctor

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