Live: Todd Snider Takes Us All For A Beer Run At Joe's Pub
Better Than: Any stand-up comedian you could've seen tonight
Todd Snider never says "I wrote this song"; it's always "I made this up." Crucial distinction. He takes his craft too seriously to use so formal a word as "write" to describe the genesis of, say, the song that includes the lines "You know the number-one symptom of heart disease? The number-one symptom of heart disease is sudden death." Or the one he swears he made up in the split-second between realizing he was about to crash his rental car in a Nevada snowstorm and actually crashing it. (He apologizes for this song only having one chord -- "I was pressed for time.") Or "Money, Compliments, Publicity," which includes the following quasi-zen koan:
If I ever do get my money together
I'm gonna take care of all of my friends
I'll buy an island, run a phone line, call 'em, tell 'em all to get fucked
That oughta take care of them
If Matthew McConaughy or somebody like that ever played a character like Todd Snider in a movie, you'd call bullshit. Ridiculous. Too broad. Here we have an Oregon-born beach-bum-looking ultra-leftist wise-ass folk singer, a jaunty hat usually shrouding the upper half of his face in darkness, not unlike Batman, except he is far more cheerful and forthcoming with personal information than Batman. It will not surprise you to learn that your typical Joe's Pub crowd finds this all just delightful. They are familiar with Todd's work (double-digit album output since 1994), the songs and the spaces between them. "Sometimes I may ramble for [18!!!!] minutes between songs," he notes, the "18!!!!" supplied by an enthusiastic woman in the front row. The figure is inaccurate, but not by much, especially during the extended soliloquy during the tune about writing "TODD SNIDER RULES" in a highway tunnel in Portland that includes an argument with his then-manager, Spike, who Todd only later found out was "actually a chick," but "we'll talk about that next time."
If you don't know anything about this guy, just start with "Talking Seattle Grunge Blues," a startling brutalist satire he does not play tonight, nor does he play "Money, Compliments, Publicity," alas -- he almost starts that one a few times but is immediately distracted by some other shouted song request, as he's announced, after his first seven songs, that he'll do whatever we want now that he's gotten "all the jail ones out of the way." Never seen a guy more cordial about requests: "I know that one and I'll do it right now for you." "I'm gonna do this, I'm pretty sure I know this." 'I'll see if I can remember it." "Thanks for asking me to play that one, I played that at a wedding once."
He is hilarious, but not in a distracting joke-rock sort of way. His love songs tend to be about driving and not caring where he's going, and include lines like "I got some cocaine if you want some"; his political diatribes are tremendously unsubtle, but you will likely derive satisfaction from "Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males" anyway, for once. He has an eerie ability to summarize capitalism in the fewest possible words: "Money out of paper/Paper out of trees/Making so much money we can hardly breathe," or if you prefer, just "Everyone wants the most they can possibly get/For the least they can possibly do."
As the nearly two-hour set progresses we inch closer and closer to Margaritaville, in word and deed, but by then we are so, so ready to go to Margaritaville, to sing along to songs with choruses of "Enjoy yourself/It's later than you think" or "Life's too short to worry/Life's too long to wait." "Vinyl Records'" is a huge hit, eventually breaking down into an a capella list of some of the artists whose records Todd owns (Waylon, Dylan, three different Cashes, James Taylor, etc.), with the possibly improvised aside "And if you're one of the 10 or 12 people who bought my third record, you probably know that I got piiiiiiles of Tom Petty." But your monster jam tonight is probably his simplest: "Beer Run," a fraternity anthem unparalleled, with a jovial, infectious chorus of "B double-E double-R U N, beer run," both dunderheaded and absolutely fantastic. You can totally make this shit up. You could never write it.
Critical Bias: Well, Todd did write this piece about being too scared to ever meet Bob Dylan for us last week.
Overheard: A great deal of boisterous requests, my favorite based on title along probably being "You Look Like I Could Use a Drink."
Random Notebook Dump: When you can make the waitresses laugh, you're doing something right.
Ballad of the Kingsmen
Bring 'Em Home
Tillamook County Jail
The Devil You Know
Play a Train Song
This Land Is Our Land
All My Life
Just Like Old Times
Stuck on the Corner
Stoney [Jerry Jeff Walker]
Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males
Ballad of the Devil's Backbone Tavern