Some people, mostly men, like to refer to prostitution as the world’s oldest profession, but surely the storyteller practices just as ancient a craft. As the cave paintings of Lascaux and the rock paintings of Tsodilo attest, storytelling is deeply ingrained in human culture. Despite the proliferation of iPods and Xboxes and Nooks, there are still storytellers who tell their tales much as Homer did, with nothing more than a voice, a story, and some simple musical accompaniment, and Todd Snider is one of them.
A self-proclaimed “stoner folk musician,” Todd Snider roams the country delighting audiences with his funny and poignant stories punctuated by simple guitar picking and a few plaintive bars from a harmonica. Looking like a scarecrow in a battered felt homburg and a buttoned up vest, he kept his audience rapt for an hour and a half at The Birchmere on Wednesday night. Starting with the simple ballad “I Can’t Complain,” a quintessential American folk tune of the little guy who can’t win but doesn’t let that break his heart, he proceeded to take his audience all over this great land of ours, from his hometown of Beaverton, Oregon, in “Rose City,” to his current neighborhood of East Nashville in “From a Rooftop.” We sat shotgun with him on a road trip from Tahoe to Reno in “45 Miles” and met the denizens of a trailer park in in Anywhere, USA, in “Double-Wide Blues.”
Wandering the backroads and byways of American history, we paid homage to folk hero “D.B. Cooper,” pondered the vagaries of fame and fortune of America’s greatest music legends in “Alcohol and Pills,” celebrated the legend of the railroads with “Play a Train Song,” and examined the distinguishing characteristics of two of America’s demographic groups, evangelists and hippies, in “Conservative, Christian, Right Wing, Straight, White American Male.” When he ran out of the songs that he needed to “get off his chest,” which included a delightful, if sadly insincere, dissing of Bob Dylan as a preamble to “Keep Off the Grass,” he took requests from the audience, every one of whom seemed to have a treasured song they wanted to hear from his impressive backlist of songs.
No matter that he maybe told the same stories as he did last time he was in town, the storyteller’s job is to entertain by telling us the stories that we already know, but never tire of. It is testament to Todd Snider’s masterful abilities that he can repeat them over and over to the everlasting delight of his audience, once again bringing us close to tears with the story of a kid from the ghetto on the run from the law in “The Devil You Know,” or doubling us over with laughter with a tale of frat boys on a “Beer Run.” To bring the evening to a close, he played the classic, “Runaround Sue.” “Here’s the moral and the story from the guy who knows,” he sang as the audience howled along. He sure does know, and he sure can tell it.
*Thanks to Alice Stephens for contributing this review*
Photo: Legdog / Flickr