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Todd Snider (Friday, February 11th, 2005, Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis)
Todd Snider's new album is East Nashville Skyline

By David Rachac

Even Todd Snider himself would excuse me for being surprised that he was still alive, much less still touring: “I’ve been through seven managers, five labels/A thousand picks and patch cables/Three vans, a band, a bunch of guitar stands/And cans and cans and cans of beer/And bottles of booze and bags of pot/And a thousand other drugs that I forgot/I thought that I’d be dead by now/But I’m not”. So when I heard he was going to be playing at the Cedar Cultural Center, and that local roots-rocker Dan Israel would be warming up, I knew that I would have to check it out.

I have been a fan of Dan Israel for a couple of years, and frankly, I was a little afraid for him. I envisioned a small but vocal crowd of aging hippies, pharmaceutically docile but restless and easily distracted, a combination that would play hell on any opening act, but especially on one as introspective as Israel. I think both of us were a little shocked when we were informed by people at the Cedar that they were expecting a full house of 450, and as I wandered through the crowd before the show, I saw a broad spectrum of people, from couples in their 50s to frat guys to alterna-chicks to three really enthusiastic guys in cowboy hats way in the back. Coupled with his successful debut CD, Snider’s years of touring with Jimmy Buffett, John Prine and Billy Jo Shaver have obviously won him a lot of fans along the way.

The Cedar Cultural Center is one of the lesser-known gems of the Twin Cities music scene. Outside of First Avenue, I cannot think of a better place to watch a show. Yes, it looks like an old gymnasium. Yes, the bathroom and bar facilities are far too small. But there is not a bad place in the house from which to see the performers, and the acoustics are outstanding. Plus, the patrons of the Cedar actually listen to the performers play. Fine Line management should send their patrons to the Cedar for lessons on how to shut the hell up and listen to the music.

Dan Israel took the stage ten minutes late, in order to accommodate the long lines at the bar (isn’t there a way to squeeze another bar area in somewhere?), and put on a well-received 35-minute set of tunes, concentrating predominantly on his latest solo release and his previous CD with The Cultivators. “Come To Me” and “Better Road,” both which have seen airplay on The Current, were standouts, as well as “Overloaded,” Israel’s ode to being outside of the in-crowd. He also told a story about how the State is considering naming the State Office Building (or SOB) after Ronald Reagan, and he let the left-leaning crowd finish the joke themselves – which they did with great enthusiasm.

When Todd Snider came on, he got right down to business: “Old timer, I’m an old timer/Too late to die young now”. In his self-deprecating way, he beats us to the punch when discussing his career (“My new stuff’s not as good as my old stuff was/And neither one is much when compared to the show/Which will not be as good as a different show you saw/So help me, I know, I know, I know” from “Age Like Wine”) and his well-known struggles with substance abuse (Fred Eaglesmith’s “Alcohol And Pills”). With his thin voice cracking, Snider conveys the tired wisdom of someone who has been to the brink but is happy to have made it back.

Many of Snider’s songs are autobiographical or based on people outside of the fringe. “Easy Money” was about a Vegas drifter, and “Iron Mike’s Main Man’s Last Request” was about the lowest member in Mike Tyson’s posse (“Who washed every car in this ten-car garage?/Who carries the boom box for the entourage?/Me, Mike, goddammit, me”). And on “The Ballad Of The Kingsmen,” Snider veers all over the place, from the FBI investigation of The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie” to the rise of Marilyn Manson to a first-grade kid who is “taught the art of more/To compare to and keep score” in school, yet goes to Sunday school, where he has to wear “a suit and a tie/And listen to some guy who claims to know where people go when they die/Tell him that only the meek will inherit the earth/By this time, he doesn’t know what anything is worth.”

But music is truly only half (well, maybe two-thirds) of a Todd Snider show. Fans delight in hearing his stream-of-consciousness stories behind his songs, ranging from run-ins with the law (“Tillamook County Jail”) to his infatuation with Judge Judy (“Incarcerated”). Prefacing “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” he told a story of how a guy in Chicago told Todd that he wasn’t much of a fan, because he really liked songs with good lyrics. When Todd asked him what kind of lyrics, the guy quoted “I’ve been to the desert/On a horse with no name”. The crowd got a laugh out of it, but got a bigger laugh at the end of “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” when he talked about getting out of Seattle, moving to California, buying a horse and riding him out into the desert just so he can name him. He also threw in a Bob Dylan verse (“just so you know I know what Bob Dylan song I ripped this off of”) and a Woody Guthrie verse (“just so you know I know what Woody Guthrie song Bob Dylan ripped HIS song off of”), both of which got huge cheers from the crowd.

Another big hit with the crowd was “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males,” a song about the struggle between “gay-bashing, black-fearing, poor-fighting, tree-killing leaders of sale” and “tree-hugging, peace-loving, pro-choice and gay wedding, Widespread Panic-digging hippies like me.” He made reference to the Dylan Hicks article in City Pages in “Alright Guy” (“I know I’m dirty, and I smoked about 7,002 bags of dope”), and toward the end of the show, he repeated the chorus for “Enjoy Yourself” over and over until the entire crowd sang along.

The crowd called him back for two encores, the final one being Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold,” appropriate for a performer that gives and gets so much love from his fans. Overall, a tremendous night of acoustic music in one of the best venues in the city.

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