“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before,” Marshall Crenshaw said as he was about six songs into his second show Saturday night at Club Passim. It was the story of how, in 1980, on the road with the touring production of “Beatlemania” (playing John Lennon), he would walk back to his hotel after the show at the Shubert Theatre, stop off at a deli in Copley Square, have two coffees and a chocolate brownie, and then go back to his room, determined to write a song each night, stockpiling material so he could quit the show and go out on his own. “I’d write the song in 15 minutes and then be up all night,” he joked.
Well, we had heard the story before — he told it last year at this time when he played Passim. But it was worth hearing again. Crenshaw always plays a couple of songs from his stay in Boston, and the narrative works as a kind of through-line for his sets — the origin story of the songwriter owning his craft.
That craft was on abundant display Saturday night — he played his best-known song, “Someday, Someway” (“my greatest riff,” he joked), and near-hits like “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” and “Better Back Off.” Each was a perfectly structured little drama, almost always with a bridge section to vary the play of tension and release. The songs were about love, loss, yearning, the endless highway of life (the new “Driving and Dreaming”), or about women observed and unknowable (“What Do You Dream Of?,” “There She Goes Again”). They mostly ambled along at medium tempos as Crenshaw switched off between a Danelectro guitar, with extra bass heft, and a Guild hollow-bodied, accompanying himself with detailed finger picking (the occasional short guitar break earned him applause a couple of times). He played Buddy Holly’s “Crying Waiting Hoping’” and the Jody Reynolds hit “Endless Sleep” (“a rockabilly death song”). Between songs (sung beautifully, by the way), the stories continued. But the 90-minute set was essentially one big story — by the end of it, you felt you knew Crenshaw quite well. And liked him.Jon Garelick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jgarelick.