Bob Schneider McGonigel's Mucky Duck May 23, 2013
Bob Schneider is better than Paul McCartney.
Okay fine, perhaps the Austin-based singer/songwriter was exaggerating a tad when he favorably compared his ukulele skills to the ex-Beatle (whom he had seen perform the previous night in Austin). The guy may be the Hardest Working Man In Texas Music, but at least he keeps things in perspective.
Last night at the Duck, Schneider was -- by turns -- raunchy, self-deprecating, acerbic, and gloomy; often in the course of the same song. And he has a lot of songs: funky-ish treatments harking back to his Ugly Americans days, mournful odes to love lost, and sillier efforts co-written/inspired by his son.
It's this stubborn refusal to be pigeonholed and perception of aloofness that's contributed to both Schneider's widespread popularity and his tendency to rub people the wrong way.
First off, don't be fooled by seeing an advertisement for a "Bob Schneider acoustic show." Sure, he's up there with a guitar, but maybe one-third of the set will be nothing but the man and six strings. Any other given song will feature delays, piano, trumpet, or sampled steel drums ("Slower Dear"). With anyone else, this "one man band" approach might seem gimmicky (and honestly, he could have ditched some of the vocal effects), but Schneider is accomplished enough of an instrumentalist to make it work.
He started off with little fanfare, getting right into "Good Luck" off 2002's Galaxy Kings. He followed with a discordant effort I didn't recognize, but with lyrics like "And now you are dreaming/And you are dying," it was something of a relief when he ended by saying, "That's the 'Let's get this party started' song!" Things loosened up considerably from there, as Schneider got into the pleasantly raunchy "The Tiger & the Lamb," earning much appreciation from the ladies for lines like, "I wanna do you like you ain't been done before."
Schneider's female following merits some mention, with several clusters of ladies enthusiastically cheering him on, and one determinedly drunk young woman causing enough distraction near the entrance that Rusty himself had to ask her to tone it down. Clearly she wanted Bob to "put the kingdom in her come" last night.
As I am not a rabid fan, I'm afraid I didn't recognize a handful of Thursday night's cuts. Neither of the aforementioned two ukulele tunes were familiar (though one invoked a common Schneider theme: werewolves), and Schneider seemed to sense they may have been a mistake, muttering as much before launching into one of his more recognizable recent efforts, "40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)" from Lovely Creatures.
The guy has a gift for a hook. To paraphrase Bull Durham sage Crash Davis, when Schneider was a baby, the gods must have reached down and turned his lyric-writing hand into a thunderbolt. Melancholy classics like "Big Blue Sea" and "Dirty Feeling" still pack a punch, whether enveloped in elaborate arrangements (the former) or strummed plaintively on a lone guitar.
In that respect, I almost want to compare him to another Texas troubador: Robert Earl Keen (can I do that? Will it piss off the Aggies?). Schneider definitely has a touch of REK's nasal intonation, but his voice is more expansive; however, both largely eschew the autobiographical approach in their songwriting, allowing for a much wider range of imagery and experience.
And then it was REQUEST TIME! Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass what your opinion of Schneider is, anybody who tours as much as he does and still mixes it up onstage deserves props. The Duck's audience selections ranged from predictable ("Batman," "Penelope Cruz") to really predictable ("Honeypot," "Tarantula"), but Schneider accepted each with a good-natured "You got it."
Personally, I think I preferred the bouncy "Super Shit," but "Batman" is still pretty hilarious, no matter how much he equates the song to a lengthy marriage ("You can't just do the same missionary for 25 goddamn years").
The best request, and one that came up onstage at the end of the night attached to a bill of indeterminate denomination (from my vantage point in the back of the bar), was for "Madeline," one of my personal favorite cuts off Lonelyland.
All too soon, it was over. Schneider retreated to the Duck's nether regions to prepare for the night's second show, while his people sold thumb drives of the show we had just seen to a couple dozen attendees. I don't know, some might view playing small venues like the Duck after slogging it out for 15 years as a negative, but if nothing else, Schneider's been able to keep his career going on his own terms, and he still appears to be enjoying himself.
That's gotta count for something, even if you're not opening for Paul McCartney.
Personal Bias: I barely remember the first Scabs gig I saw, at Bocktoberfest in... 1998? Told you I barely remembered.
The Crowd: Sophisticated urbanites, wannabe groupies, all largely polite. Want to see a show where every idiot around you isn't watching everything though his/her smartphone? Go to the Duck.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Which way did you turn on Westheimer?" -- some poor Dropkick Murphys-looking dude on the phone with a date going disastrously wrong.
Random Notebook Dump: "Potty cinema."
(partial) SET LIST
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Good Luck I'm Good Now(?) The Tiger & The Lamb Trash Stay(?) Slower Dear [ukulele 1] [ukulele 2] 40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet) Hillbilly Elephant Dirty Feeling Big Blue Sea Watch the Colors Run Super Shit Everything Is Cool Penelope Cruz Batman Honeypot Tarantula Captain Kirk Madeline