Todd Snider At House Of Blues Dallas, Texas, Thursday, October 25th, 2012, Reviewed.
Leadoff batter and Isbell fiancée Amanda Shires began the evening with a short set, playing bass ukulele. With her simple, rhythmic musicianship and somewhat eccentric whistling interludes, at worst she seemed a bit too precious. Her best moments, “I Kept Watch Like Doves” and “When You Need a Train It Never Comes,” were reminiscent of Amy Rigby and Lucinda Williams. Shires worked all night, switching to violin to support both Isbell and Snider. As a performer that got her first break in a latter-day version of the Texas Playboys before she was old enough for a driver’s license, Shires accompanied both men with the proper balance of passion and precision.
Jason Isbell broke into the game as the George Harrison low quantity/high quality third songwriter for the Drive-By Tuckers in the early ‘00s. He traffics in well-wrought sentimental literalism with a level of expertise that up and comers would have killed for in the James Taylor/Jackson Browne singer/songwriter era. For this gig, he concentrated heavily on his last studio release, 2011’s Here We Rest. The wistful “Alabama Pines,” which was the Americana Music Association’s “Song of the Year,” and “Codeine,” about losing a lover to a friend’s pharmacy connections, were highlights of the new material. The lovingly rendered paternal advisory number “Outfit,” from his DBT stint, is simply one of the best songs of the past ten years. While his vocals in the studio can tilt toward plaintive restraint, he attacked the material with confidence in a live sitting. The only negatives of the performance were the dynamic limitations of working without a full band.
Isbell switched to an electric guitar to support headliner Todd Snider. While Isbell’s inspirations are internal (his thoughts, emotions, desires), Snider looks externally to feed his muse – poking fun at uptight right wingers or wondering why God keeps secrets or explaining his relationship with the Tillamook County police department. I’m not saying that Snider appeared to be stoned out of his gourd, but after thirty seconds of his performance, I had downed three bags of potato chips just out of sympathy.
Snider’s great gift has been his reinvention of the ‘60s era protest singer with humor and irony replacing the old school didacticism. Performing in bare feet and alternating between a sly “did you see what I did there?” grin and a huge Jimmy Carter smile, Snider kept the crowd in the palm of his hand, frequently using call and response or sing along style cadences. He’s released over a dozen albums now and knows what material works best in a live environment. Other than a rather sloppy/rushed version of “The Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern,” he was pretty much on his game through the entire set. The positively anthemic “Alright Guy” was the highlight of the evening. Sadly, he was short on stories during the show, but he may have sensed that just churning out the tunes was the best option in the less than intimate environment, where every pause was filled by alcohol induced audience song requests.
Isbell and Snider are an excellent package – two quality songwriters approaching their craft from different, but both satisfying, perspectives. Let’s give the night an A- and sincerely hope that no police dogs ever search the tour bus.
Tour of Duty
Goddamn Lonely Love
Tired of Traveling Alone
Go It Alone
Jacksonville Skyline (Ryan Adams cover)
Todd Snider Setlist
Age Like Wine
Stuck on the Corner
Is This Thing Working?
Too Soon to Tell
Looking for a Job
Tillamook County Jail
Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern
Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican, Straight White American Male
Play a Train Song