(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Concert review - Todd Snider with Reed Föehl

25 April 2012 (Hodi's Half Note, Ft. Collins CO)

I was pleased that Todd Snider played here in Ft. Collins, especially in an intimate venue like Hodi's. It's a big difference from the Boulder Theater (his next stop on the tour). Snider and Reed Föehl pulled in a mixed age crowd that filled up the venue.

Reed Föehl
Folk singer Reed Föehl is a Boston native, transplanted here to Colorado. He played a comfortable, singer/songwriter set that didn't push boundaries but still satisfied the quiet, attentive crowd. With his simple finger-picked guitar and the wistful twang of his singing, his first song evoked John Prine at his more serious. His subtle harmonica playing added a tentative vulnerability to the tune.

Introducing the next song, he said, "I'm sure a lot of these may be new to you. But this one is new to me. It's called 'Color Me In'." It was another simple waltz beat folk song, sounding like early solo Ryan Adams. These were good tunes, but they set the flow for the whole set: serious, sincere folk music with a coffee shop vibe.

Föehl's stage presence fit well with this. He was very gentle and earnest, with a mild self-deprecating patter. Even offstage, his mellow, friendly vibe made him very approachable. Still, I found myself wanting him to be more dynamic, both physically and musically. The folk genre is a fairly big pool, with room for humor, edge, and energy but Föehl's set maintained an even, steady pace.

His next to last song finally shook things up. Once an Ocean was moodier with a darker depth. Föehl channeled Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield and built a much appreciated intensity.

Todd Snider
In person, Todd Snider always teeters on a ledge in a way that even his live recordings can't quite convey. He's joked about this unpredictability in his song, Age Like Wine:
My new stuff is nothing like my old stuff was
And neither one is much when compared to the show
Which will not be as good as some other one you saw
So help me, I know, I know
I know I am
an old timer...
Snider is touring behind his latest album, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (review), but the set list bounced through his full catalog. He opened with an older tune, Alright Guy, then jumped right into New York Banker from the new album.

Snider was something like a Zen master as he zipped through his set list but never seemed rushed. He and the band flowed from song to song, but as soon as the pace seemed noticeable, Snider broke it up with some of his seat-of-the-pants patter. While a given story may follow the same basic flow from show to show, the details shift and blur.

The best moment came near the end of Beer Run, when he interrupted the song to share his philosophy about playing goofy songs like this:
...there's something I want to get off my chest because it bothers me. My friends back home in East Nashville, they just naturally assume...without even asking me, they just naturally assume that I am sick of this song that I'm playing right now. They say, "Oh God damn, you must be sick of that fucking one." Shit, no, I'm not!! It's my favorite one...

...I can't get enough of it. And I'll tell you something else. I'll tell you that there ain't never gonna be a day in my life when I make up a song that somebody else likes or wants to sing to. I don't care who they are. If they like it and they want to sing to it, I want to sing it for them. I'm grateful for it. And I'll tell you why...

That segued directly into Age Like Wine before wrapping up with a final chorus of Beer Run.

His backing band matched Snider's style perfectly. They laid low, easy to underestimate until you realized how tight they were. The uptempo numbers gave them a little more room to work with, allowing for some fancier fills, but they were great sidemen. Their foundation gave Snider more dynamic space.

The mix of new and old tunes satisfied the crowd. Snider's consistency as a writer provided the common ground that had everyone singing along on every song. Along with his own songs, Snider threw in a run of covers: Neil Youngs Hey hey, My My, Rusty Weir's Don't it Make You Wanna Dance, Jerry Jeff Walker's Pissing in the Wind, and Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls of Fire. Each of these felt like the show's closer as the big endings dragged on, but every time, the band would suddenly kick into the next one. By the time Snider and the band finally left the stage, the audience was wrung out. If this was a ploy to avoid an encore, it didn't work, though. Snider came back out and took a request (Play a Train Song) and followed that up with his last song of the night, Big Finish.

This turned into a sideshow moment. While Snider encouraged a girl at the front of the stage who was soul singing along, the rest of us were distracted by a harmonica player walking through the crowd towards the stage. Acting like he was part of the act, the harp player jumped up and took over the mic. A bemused Snider handed him another harmonica in the right key. When the soul singer decided to come up, too, Snider just stepped back and gave them room. It was anarchy, but what else is going to happen when you try to make a Saturday night out of a weekend.

More photos on my Flickr.

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