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KNUCKLEHEADS - Mike Grace - 3/12/07

Funny how words and beliefs and time and space come together.

In what seems to be another lifetime not 60 miles from here I met a guy at a Baptist church who said to me 'I listen whenever I hear someone speak because you never know if God might be speaking'.

It took a while to sink in as I was in the middle of ending the 'fundie' phase of my life. You know: when you think you have everything figured out, whether politics or religion or relationships or what have you. Back then if someone didn't conform to my conception of what I'd been led to believe they ought to be I tended to dismiss what they had to say. I should note I've not completely gotten past this.

Anyway, here I am many years later having warmed the globe driving 200+ miles to see a left leaning pot smoking barefoot hippie type who sings about providing a getaway car with a joint in the ashtray to a black kid who robbed a bank and I'm inclined to believe God is speaking somehow.

And some Baptist dude is instrumental in all this. Go figure.


We're (the Baptist guy too, at least in spirit) all at Knuckleheads Honky Tonk Blues Bar in north KC MO and if you ever get anywhere near you need to be here at least once just to see the place. Be advised it's nearly impossible to find but the degree of difficulty is commensurate with the atmosphere. It's amazing; the website doesn't begin to do it justice.

Got there way early and saw Todd outside talking to three fans who were already lined up but just as I was walking up he headed toward his bus so I didn't bug him.

Right next to the door is stuck one of those stick on silver fish symbols you see on cars and I wondered if it was some kind of sarcastic deal but later decided it's not. There are a lot of things stuck everywhere and I'm inclined to believe none of them are accidental.

The kindly door guy let us in early and I staked out a seat close to front and center then killed time scoping the place and noticed a guy about my age walking around acting like he owned it (you know, doing the kind of little things employees don't) so I talked to him when he wasn't. Turns out he did and as I've got a business fetish I picked his brain. Frank Hicks is his name.

In 1985 he bought this property in this industrial neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks, literally: one track tracks about 90' from the south end which adds an ambience to the whole deal; more later.

(Part of the ambience is a caboose adjacent to the outdoor seating area which he's built a platform on top of and you can go up there and look down on the trains when they idle by. Big honking trains do regularly but slowly cause I think the north south street just west is the first street they cross leaving the rail yards just east: that's conjecture. It's cool up there and I yelled howdy at the guy who was walking in front of the ol' 2453 with his flashlight doing something and he yelled howdy back. I'm in a 'howdy' state of mind because of Todd and Knuckleheads ambience generally.)

Frank opened a body shop just across the street north and then had the idea to open a saloon and after a while it started doing well enough he spent less time in the original enterprise and how could you blame him. Frank was humble about all he'd done building this place up (you've just got to see it sometime) but you could tell he was also proud and rightfully so.

The city of KC and his neighbors have to appreciate it: Frank's made less than desirable property desirable for a whole lot of people which creates good times plus a whole lot of cash flow which turns into tax receipts which results in a better and more prosperous neighborhood. This is a classic example of turning something which isn't much into something which is and I'm inspired seeing that kind of stuff. I mean, Todd Snider is here.

One proof of a well managed operation is the employees have a good time working and they do here except for one snarky guy who seems to have to try to prove something about having what he thinks is 'power' but he's just one out of many and you figure he hasn't been here long enough to figure out it's not about power you think you have but you don't. Don't let that put you off: come here and catch a show sometime and you'll probably never notice the guy cause either he or his attitude won't last long and you'll enjoy it immensely. I guarantee it.


It's been so long since I was in a place like this I'd forgotten one of the fringe benefits of a dark smoky saloon is everyone looks better: the haze kind of blurs the edges and filters the images you receive so it seems like the nasty parts of them don't come through and all you see is smiling faces and all you hear is bar-throb bass and laughter. I even felt like I was projecting less nasty and that made perhaps made me less nasty.

And I ran into Frank again and he told me he'd sold out early the 250 tickets which is good because it means Todd can make a living doing what he's doing. He also told me he'd once had 519 people in the place and I got claustrophobic but that's the kind of thing business owners love to talk about and I ate it up.


Will Kimbrough is a Nashville guitarist and singer/songwriter (check out _Americanitis_, although right now Will live does more for me than Will recorded but I reserve the right to revise my opinion) and the roadie (Elvis? - sorry I didn't get your name) were setting up so I said howdy and they were both nice and Will was polite no matter what he sings and Elvis is one of those guys who has a look in his eye like he knows something you don't. Will uses a Line 6 delay pedal and a Fender Twin Reverb (which wasn't miked so I guess they feed a direct line into the PA?) and some other stuff and the sound was OK.

Right about the scheduled start time Will fired things up. His guitar 'style', whatever that is, is very 'rhythmic'. Even when he's playing a lead
it seems to be largely rhythm; it's difficult to explain but it's great to watch and hear and because he's figured out enthusiasm is no small part of the show you kind of bounce around yourself - it's contagious.

I'll spare you details but if you ever get a chance to see him I recommend doing so, without reservation: 4.8 out of five stars / not quite perfect but you can see it from here.


One reason I don't think the fish symbol is sarcastic is the intermission music was a bunch of old hymns, the first being _How Great Thou Art_ by the guy whose name I know for sure is Elvis. Plus Frank seemed like he might be a Christian who fights hell by running a hell of a saloon.

In the middle of all this a blonde long haired boy meanders around who you'd swear was Todd three decades ago: the resemblance is uncanny.


Then Todd shows up and kicks off his Chuck Taylor Converses. He has the hillbilly shtick down so far past art it's science. If you've ever wondered what good hillbillies are, watch him closely: they're in the moment and speak simply by using words carefully and honestly and they're smart asses who've learned to give and take and ratchet up the professionalism when it's time.


He and Will sing about Rocket Fuel which is some kind of theme here that I don't know about having only been introduced to Todd a few weeks ago. Still, you get the idea it's a good theme.

Todd's got this smile and glinty eye thing going on which makes you think he knows something you don't which also might be a theme.

Then it's _Just Like Old Times_ and you can't help but think it is no matter who you're with. Somewhere near here Todd provides a disclaimer that all he does is provide opinions that rhyme and the lawyer in me is satisfied.

And in _Happy New Year_ you know how he says 'wow' when he acknowledges he's not exactly black? Here he sung some kind of fading 'whew' and it worked just as well. And IMO God wanted someone to sing 'I'm evangelical agnostic now' and this is as good a place as any.

I'm not sure about the next one but something about 'my baby mother'? It didn't make sense to me either as I was distracted.

_Lookin' For A Job_ is further evidence of Todd's subtlety and how he can speak across spectrums or classes or categorizations. Personally, I really like the 'hoo hoo hoos'.

Next was something about 'my vacation song'. I didn't know this one either and it was difficult to keep up and I was getting tired and my notes deteriorate.

Regardless next was _The Tillamook County Jail_ which you must have had to have been there and I was glad I wasn't and just able to hear about it, here. I mentioned once to someone you get the impression Todd has been around the block several times and was paying attention during the circuits and this song is evidence.

He talked about 'drugs' and (paraphrasing) the insanity of the 'war on drugs' and how his idea of drug education was teaching someone how to make a bong out of an apple. I've never seen that done but it struck me as just the kind of thing someone might reasonably do, in a pinch.

Prior to this it was just acoustic guitars but now Will picked up his electric, and no I'm not sure what it was but it may have been an SG, and they demonstrated _Easy Money_ is difficult to come by by earning some having worked a lot. I'm not sure what to think except maybe working too hard to make money is bad and it's difficult to find the happy middle ground.

_I Think I'm An All Right Guy_ was next and you have to think he is.

I've mentioned the trains and just as they launched into _Play A Train Song_ a whistle blew about 120 feet away through the walls and it made Todd laugh so much it was absolutely perfect because they maintained their rhythm and equilibrium and pulled it off.

It was perfect. It really was.



And then some cigarette smoke got in my eye and it was still perfect and he said his wife was traveling with him which explains the kid and can you imagine all that on a bus at the tail end of a tour and still smiling while you're working in a smoky saloon with trains blasting not far away? I'm impressed.

We experienced early Todd humor and more when we heard _Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues_.

He talked about the Kingsmen and Louie Louie which may have been a lead-in into how some songwriter stole his song _Beer Run_ using complex legalities which Todd appreciated by pointing out the thief was a genius. This guy is interesting.

They did _If Tomorrow Never Comes_: I think the point is it's OK if it doesn't, or does.

Then there was _Carla_ which means to me sometimes it's time to move on in the interest of fairness. It's a good song.

Followed by _Horseshoe Lake_ wherein corporate sycophancy is demonstrated to be less than ideal.

(I wish I could pinpoint exactly where he sang _Tension_ but I can't but you still ought to track it down and absorb it. It was dark and my notes and all that.)

And 'Hey Hey Hey' and 'Good News Blues' and 'Tree Hugging Pot Smoking Lazy Ass Hippie something' or other and I was really fading at this point wondering where I'd be next as it was some distance.






There was a song about running 20 red lights which spoke to me given I do but not all at once and maybe it was the same song but I wanted to meet the girl with the faraway eyes. It's those with the near focus what tend to put me off.

My guess is he closed with some song that suggested you 'enjoy yourself it's later than you think' but I'm not certain cause I'd checked out.

The only bad thing about the evening was no _The Devil You Know_ but how could you do it justice with just two guitars so it wasn't really bad.


All that to say this: if you haven't purchased _The Devil You Know_ you should and then you should go see him.

He *is* an all right guy.

LAST UPDATED: Friday, November 17, 2017 2:17 PM