In January of 1997 I went to my first Todd concert at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster. I stood in the back, couldn't really see Todd, and had no clue what I was listening to. My brother, Mark, is the musician and he was thrilled to be there; I'm no musician at all. I'm just a basically conservative elementary school principal who was there to listen to an artist my friend, Chris, an accountant, had invited me to see, and who he had thought was Godd since his college days in the 70's.
Now I understand.
I saw Todd on his first With a Twist tour at The Village in Lancaster, and traveled to Daytonas in Baltimore and then Jaxx in Springfield, Virginia to hear him on the second leg. In between times I bought Chris a banana shaker like Todd's for Christmas - his goal was to get it autographed by Todd and the band at Daytonas.
Daytonas was relatively small and filled up by concert time with maybe 300 people. Todd's tour bus passed by us as we stood in line - of course, we knew it was Todd's bus by the fact that it had Johnny Cash's name on the destination window in the front.
While I liked the bossa nova of the first set, the novelty of this had worn off a bit from my overplay of the With A Twist cd, and I was eager to hear more of what I remembered in the second and third sets from the first leg of the WAT tour. Highlights of the second set for me were "Hello It's Me," "Expresso," "Lost Horizon," and "The Individualist." Todd's schtick was what I had remembered from before, but it seemed a tad strained. I had also admired how much fun Todd, Jess and Kasim were having in the improvisation in "Born to Synthesize," but it all just seemed a little off. Was everyone tired? Was I tired? There were some technical issues on stage during the evening - some difficulties with Kasim and Jesse's guitars. It's a good thing that Todd is agile because with the clutter and crowding of electrical cords and speakers in the tiki bar he could have easily tripped and fallen during "Can't Stop Running" or "The Individualist." (Hope I move as gracefully when I'm in my 50's!) The ceiling was so low above the tiki set that Todd reached up and hit it several times. It wasn't until I got to Jaxx the following night that I realized that I had missed at Daytonas.
The management at Jaxx was appreciative and cordial to its patrons in every regard the entire evening. This was a first class place, eager to please Todd's fans; Jaxx opened the doors at 6 p.m. so we wouldn't have to stand in line outside if the night turned cold. The stage was bigger and minus the electrical clutter that I had noticed the night before. The place was packed by show time, but most patrons had a good view of the stage from any angle.
Right from the start Todd was "hot" as he called himself - physically, yes (it was obviously warm under the lights), but he was "there" in a way he hadn't been at Daytonas. He had two nights off coming up, he said, and was working this night with enough of an edge that he readily and clearly told off a fan who was annoying everyone and, in the next breath, a cigar smoker who was annoying him. The bossa nova of the first set was so smooth that I fell in love with these songs all over again in a way I hadn't since I first heard the WAT cd, but it was the second set that made the night for me. "Expresso," "Real Man," "The Individualist," "Can't Stop Running," "Lost Horizon," (made me weepy!), and "Hello It's Me," (ending in a cloud of fog and thunder drums) - in my mind, there was no better place on earth to be than at Jaxx.
The dragged out, ragged feeling of the previous night at the Daytona cracker box was gone. The banter was happier somehow from the stage, and the third set was almost over before it began - there was so much to see and listen to. Kasim and Jesse were wild in the improv during "Born to Synthesize," and my view of John Ferenzik and Praire Prince during this set gave me a whole new appreciation for the team play that goes on behind the Individualist, who sat and listened from his bar stool. "Hammer in My Heart," and "I Don't Want to Tie You Down" had been missing from the night before, as had the giggles Todd experienced several times - once when he forgot where he had been in "Lucky Guy" (no problem - we all knew!), and then when he was entertained by the stage drunk who did an Oscar winning performance "passing out" on the floor during "A Dream Goes on Forever." Todd's comment, after he had stopped laughing, "What a lullaby this was!" All I could think was what a night this had been and that it had ended far too quickly.
What do I admire in Todd's artistry, and what did I like about Daytonas and love at Jaxx? I applaud and respect that he makes music to suit himself, without seeming to give a thought to marketing executives. Todd's passion for his craft - live and via audio - is gut wrenching. He sings with his hands, his eyes, and a voice that is stunning to me in its range. Truly, he sings with his soul. Onstage he appreciates his audience, connects with them, and makes them feel they are real and important. In doing this, he becomes as real and human as the lyrics he is singing. I like that he seems to reinvent himself often, and that his songs can carry volumes of meaning for the Mark, the musician; Chris, the accountant; or for Ellen, the elementary school principal - all at the same time but in extremely varied and special ways.
And, best of all, I like that Todd is happy and willing, and understands just how important it is, to autograph a banana for someone who has been and will be a fan for almost a lifetime. This kind of understanding is a gift from a real man.
Ellen P. Griffis