Bob Schneider's Moonlight Orchestra
Cullen Theater, Wortham Center
November 27, 2015
The Christmas season, as those of a mind to do so are keen to remind you, gets an earlier start every year. It's not unusual to see decorations popping up in your local big box stores along with Halloween costumes and fake tombstones. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe radio stations should hold off on the carols and TV networks show restraint in their bazillion airings of A Christmas Story until our Thanksgiving turkey has had time to digest and Bob Schneider has officially ushered in the yuletide season with his "Special Holiday Evening," a tradition for...three years now?
The Cullen Theater isn't Schneider's usual H-Town stomping ground, but Friday's show was sponsored by McGonigel's Mucky Duck, where he performs on the regular. The setting was decidedly more urbane — Schneider in his tux matching the crowds descending on the Theater District for The Nutcracker and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet — even if the occasional rolling beer bottle reminded us at least one venue wasn't taking things too seriously.
Backed up, as in years before, by the Tosca Strings, Schneider had ample orchestral support, coming to the fore most notably in an exuberant rendition of "Tarantula," but also giving some added heft to Bob faves like "Captain Kirk" and "40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)." Of particular note was trumpet player Ephraim Owens, who soloed with Schneider and guest Lex Land on several numbers.
The set was also (perhaps) understandably light on the sarcasm one tends to see at Schneider shows. One notable exception, Schneider coming out after special guest (and 2015 AMA Austin Musician of the Year) Gina Chavez's soulful rendering of "Mary, Did You Know?" and offering, "Mary, did you know you can save 15 percent on car insurance?" There are Christmas songs, and then there are Christmas songs, I suppose.
Schneider has always been famous (in Texas, anyway) for the way he melds wry, occasionally nonsensical humor with melancholy, and the latter was certainly on display with many of his holiday cuts. Schneider has remarked on his difficult relationship with the holiday in the past, so this shouldn't come as a surprise (especially if you're familiar with 2009's Christmastime), and his renditions of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were almost solemn affairs.
One question, though: why do a cover of the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" and end it before the duet section? You've got Chavez and Land, either of whom would be capable of holding their own in the Kirsty MacColl verses. "Happy Christmas your arse," indeed.
Land's more traditional belting shored up several numbers, including "Blue Christmas" and a team-up with Schneider on that date-rapiest of standards, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The pair's take was more tongue-in-cheek than creepy, but I still felt like toweling off my extremities afterwards.
Schneider brought the whole gang out on stage for the encore, a rousing version of "All I Want for Christmas" that went a long way towards erasing our memories of Love Actually. And just like that, it was time to say goodbye as Schneider and friends prepared to return to Austin. If I had any complaint, it's that the show was too brief. Something we won't be able to say about the holiday season in general, I'm afraid.
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Personal Bias: Big fan of the Frunk.
The Crowd: Mostly well-behaved, perhaps because they were unaware they could bring drinks into the theater.
Overheard In The Crowd: "It never fails: if I'm early, the band's late. If I'm late, they start early." Said by the drunk asshole behind us three times in 90 seconds. We moved.
Random Notebook Dump: "Q: Is there any song that couldn't be improved by adding a euphonium? A: No, no there is not."