Todd Snider will be the first to tell you that his recent preference for solo gigs, rather than full band tours, is financially motivated. Not that it matters much to those in the audience. Snider's tragically comedic tales of woe are just as convincing when played alone. In fact, one of Snider's drawing cards, besides the music, is his knack for stage banter, which plays even better without the distractions. (At his previous solo appearance at the Mucky Duck this year, folks at the early show practically chained themselves to the chairs when told they would have to clear out.)
Snider's on-stage charisma revolves around his hard-luck hayseed persona -- a stoner Tommy Smothers with some nasty personal baggage -- who rambles on about a weird collection of partially true misfortunes and then, out of nowhere, delivers a dry punch line that John Cleese would die for.
His decision to go it alone was based partially on the material he wrote for Happy to Be Here, released in early 2000, which focused more on lyrics than on songs composed with a band in mind. When asked about his major influences, Snider mentions Billy Joe Shaver, John Prine and Jerry Jeff Walker (musicians serious artistes would never include in the same sentence), something that provides a hint about his gonzo perspective on things. In conversation, Snider gets noticeably uncomfortable when he talks about his idols and whether he considers himself (as some fans and musicians do) one of their peers. To keep himself humble, he'll mention the album that changed his life, the Stones' Exile on Main Street, and wonder how the hell could he ever write something like that.
When push comes to shove, Snider's gigs are a showcase for his insightful critiques of pop culture that helped him create such ditties as "Talking Seattle Grunge-Rock Blues" or "My Generation (Pt. 2)" from his revered Songs for the Daily Planet. It's the CD that also includes "Alright Guy," a song that most would agree is as autobiographical as it gets, as long as you understand that the hapless-go-lucky protagonist is merely a character pulled from his cleverly conceived bag of tricks.
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