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Thursday, 06 June 2013 14:55

Concert review: Counterculture icons Todd Snider and Ray Wylie Hubbard (with Stickley & Canan) kick off Twangfest 17 at Plush, Wednesday, June 5

Todd Snider at Twangfest 17 Todd Snider at Twangfest 17 Colin Suchland
Written by Kevin Edwards
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The word "hippie" has a bad connotation. Hippies don't mind because that's the way of the hippie. In fact hippies love to call themselves hippies.

They are all just titles and labels. But too often "hippie" conjures an image of a barefoot ball of hair that has less money than ambition.

Not true.

Well, not always true.

Sometimes they play guitar.

So, for our purposes here, let's dispense with the word and let's talk "counterculture." With that word guiding us we can now conjure Kerouac and Ginsburg and Lenny Bruce.

Todd Snider is not unlike them to my mind, perhaps especially Lenny Bruce.

Lenny Bruce was a comedian but he was more than that. His comedy and its inherent anger and frustration was an integral part of his time, a time when the glow had faded from the so-called glories of war and the bland exterior of Eisenhower's America hid a wicked undertow.

Todd Snider, to me, represents his lot and time here on the planet in songs that combine laughter, bittersweet truths and stark realizations not unlike Bruce's act.

Bruce's act integrated politics, drugs, sex and religion with humor. Snider's songs do the same. Both address issues that might be hard to look at, if not for the deflection of tomfoolery.

I recently interviewed Snider for KDHX and after the piece was posted I received a message from Don Duprie, frontman for Detroit's Doop and the Inside Outlaws.

Duprie said, "It's funny how he talks about seeing Jerry Jeff Walker for the first time. That's how I felt when I saw Todd Snider for the first time. He actually made me want to quit at first because he blew my mind but then I realized there was something to live up to. He's the people's champ."

I was also looking forward to seeing Ray Wylie Hubbard who, in a turn of synchronicity, wrote "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother" which was recorded and made famous in 1973 by none other than Jerry Jeff Walker, who Todd Snider credits as his idol.

It's the circle of life, friends. Six Degrees of Jerry Jeff, anyone?

Hubbard writes songs that are witty, wry and sound like they were crafted on a wooden porch not far from a pot belly stove, a pickle barrel and a roach clip. He is a storyteller and a survivor.

Plush, which hosted the first night of Twangfest 17, presented by 88.1 KDHX, is a medium-sized venue (7-800 capacity) lying just east of Grand Center. It's a loft atmosphere with couches and pillows and velvet-draped columns and one of the strangest murals outside of Parks and Rec. Marilyn Monroe, Carol Burnett and unidentifiable others are shown doing the Can-Can, skirts and legs lifted high, while old Hollywood icons like Jerry Lewis and Clark Gable wear tiny top hats and ignore them. Jimmy Durante is pictured playing piano and either Jesus or John Lennon is playing bongos while floating in a yellow cloud.

No, I did not have a pre-show tab. But the mural made me feel a little light-headed.

Stickley & Canan took the stage first and kicked of Twangfest 17 at 8 p.m. with friend Ryan Kennedy on bass. The opening instrumental started slow but doubled and then doubled speed again, sounding more Celtic with each increase.

It was a perfect opening, showing great musical skill and a precision that walked the tightrope of chaos. You could almost picture a pub and a man named Clooney, wearing a wooly sweater, dancing faster and faster and then drunkenly falling into the peat fire.

Maybe that was just me.

Joe Stickley and Sean Canan are regulars in St. Louis and most of their act is more Irish than a shamrock-shaped potato but they do not necessarily subscribe to Yeats' notion that the Irish have an abiding sense of tragedy that sustains them through temporary periods of joy. These boys were having fun and the gathering crowd was too.

A highlight for me was the cover of "Sloop John B" with the replacement lyrics, "Hoist up the Irish flag!" I wish for their sake they were working on commission for the Jameson they helped sell.

After a short break, Ray Wylie Hubbard took the stage and broke into the "Deep Ellum" blues lick of "Rabbit." The introduction sounded a bit like Blind Lemon Jefferson immersed in honey, and then the drums kicked in and Wylie sang.

"It's the night people's job to make the day people money."

That did it. The crowd, obviously identifying themselves as night people, fell into Hubbard's able hands for the rest of the show.

Following "Rabbit" with "Snake Farm" was genius. And a little funny too, if you think about it.

The number of people that know this song and who sang it with such gusto is kind of alarming to me.

The chorus:

Snake Farm -- it just sounds nasty

Snake Farm -- well it pretty much is

Snake Farm -- it's a reptile house

Snake Farm -- Uuuggghhhhh……

Hubbard delivered a solid set and encore, playing well past his scheduled time. His sound was full, especially considering that he was only accompanied by drums for most of the set but the sound got fuller when he was joined by Amanda Shires on violin.

Highlights were "Wanna Rock 'n' Roll/John the Revelator" and a long version of James McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo," which included a whole-crowd sing-along that increased in volume on the "great big old hard on" lyric.

Hubbard, who seemed to really be digging the crowd, also played the infamous "Up Against the Wall, Redneck" which, apparently, is the anthem for the night people.

During the break, the crew set up a café table and flowers onstage. It was a nice homey touch and reminded me of seeing Erykah Badu at Mississippi Nights with her table of incense and tea and flowers.

Then the lights lowered, Booker T's "Green Onions" came up over the sound system and Todd Snider took the stage with Amanda Shires and drummer Paul Griffith. Snider looked like the caricature of himself he has created: be-hatted and bearded and vested. I couldn't see his feet.

Snider and company launched in to "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and it's a great opening song with inclusive lyrics: "Any kind of heaven everybody doesn't get in/ Won't seem like heaven to me."

And that set the stage for the second song "Is This Thing Working?" which is about a bully that gets paid back.

Snider followed with "Greencastle Blues" which is another arrest chronicle and then segued into "Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males" which should not be taken as a secret checklist to get in at country clubs and Bohemian Grove meetings. The song goes on to further identify the target group: "Gay bashing, black fearing, poor fighting, tree killing, regional leaders of sales."

Don't forget to add these: "Frat-housing, keg-tapping, shirt-tucking, back-slapping, haters of hippies like me."

The crowd squealed a bit with excitement at the inclusion, wanted to be hippies, to be hated.

The two mammoth truck drivers who had taken up residence at my table, however, did not. They left soon after.

I had learned all I need to know about tire pressure anyway.

Snider's set was like a greatest hits album that kept delivering. "Old Times," one of my favorites, was included as was "Sideshow Blues" and "D.B. Cooper."

Other highlights included "Play a Train Song" and Snider's encore of the Chuck Berry classic "School Days."

Snider and company opened Twangfest 17 to an appreciative, capacity crowd; through the songs of veterans like him and Ray Wylie Hubbard we had fun in spite of life's perils and we felt it was OK to be a hippie, if only for one night.

Except for the two truck drivers. I believe they said they were headed for Luckenbach, Texas and a roadside diner free of both hippies and counterculture.

I wish them good luck with that. But then a hippie would.

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