Not that I haven't seen a few phoned-in shows and/or those with minor or major disasters --- technical results here and there --- come to think of it, the first show (1974, Detroit's Pine Knob), and the last show in Houston almost a year ago (with Tull), well, both were train-wrecks. The 97% of the other ~40-something shows in-between, however, have been among some of the life's better moments. So, I am sure others will understand, even if a somewhat dicey proposition, one has-to-go if the chance presents itself. So I did.
Take home message: it was amazing. Not perfect, but nonetheless amazing.
Odd venue, indeed. Been there before for cosmic cowboy Austin hippie music, which is rather fitting. But, Todd? Why cram a sold out crowd of Austenite's, a real-deal, hard core cadre of fans, and various other Texans that don't mind driving hours and hours between the big cities because, frankly, there is no other choice, into a beatup roadhouse? Driving isn't so bad, especially when the weather isn't, yet, baking hellishly, and the ever-present roadside flowers are kicking off their call for insects/pollination and the little kids that sit on blankets so ma/pop can take photos, but, still I had to roll my eyes at the thought of driving...but....had to go. Maybe there was going to be a chicken wire screen to protect Todd from beer bottles if various things went wrong; at least the place wasn't an emphysema-inducing, cigarette smoke pit. Since Gruene Hall is little more than a few wood posts holding a tin roof, well, natural ventilation worked well, and it even allowed the occasional wisps of pot to drift about, despite a bunch of big-old Texas Rangers milling about (one of which felt oddly obliged to take a darling set of dancing gals off the stage who felt called to be a backdrop to part of the bosa nova set, which was superb; I don't think Todd ever knew they were there, he was so into crooning; but I can't help but wonder why they are so fat...).
It was a great set of songs. The voice was in full register (the month off must have helped). The Vibe was palpable. It was packed/sold out, and seemed to go over the stated limit of 500. It was electric, lots of rapport with the audience...seemed like he was having a great, great time, from beginning to end; lots of folks sang their hearts out word for word along with every song (collectively the audience chorus was pretty damn good, actually). It was just what the gathering called for; maybe even the occasional techy and piano flubs were more endearing than distracting.
Bouncing out onto the stage of the "oldest dance hall in Texas," Todd immediately launched into Lysistrata (who would have guess that one!). It brought an immediate and wonderful mix of joy and pain-----great opening number, of course, but the mic didn't work for shit on the whole song, despite numerous commentary by fans near the mixing board (more like the mixed up board; it was unintelligible muted distortion on the voice, but the guitar was great). So much for a most timely of songs --- folks a few feet away probably heard it ok (stage monitors I found out later when I strolled up to the side did a great job for those nearby). Several ruined songs followed until he got to the piano, which was such a shame, as the Voice and the Heart were there tonight. Wonder of wonders, the mic WORKED on the piano!
Except for nearly falling off the piano bench mid-song and the usual flubs, the match of Todd and piano was mesmerizing.
Back to the guitar, and the mic was fixed. Whew! The song set others have already listed....
It went by all too fast and at the same time lasted and lasted. Lots of banter with the on-the-edge-of-their-feet and adoring crowd, TR sang and played his heart out. Some surprises: an acoustic guitar version of "Beloved Infidel" was intense. And the 1st (of 2) encores, "The Wheel," skipped the ever-popular-acapella-hypnotic-ranting-finale and segued into something I thought he was actually leaving behind --- "What's Going On" .... I simply don't know how that ending could have been better performed, or more appropriate.
Who cares about a few flubs and techno issues, the show nonetheless stood out as a wonderful representation of a national treasure.