By Pam LeBlanc, American-Statesman staff
If you’ve lived in Austin a year or more, you’ve seen Bob Schneider live. And if you haven’t, you’re probably in some sort of violation of Austin residency requirements.
Schneider swore in a whole new auditorium full of Austin citizens, along with more than a few who have seen him a few hundred times, when he teamed with the Tosca String Quartet on Friday night at the Long Center.
As diehard Schneider fans know, the singer/songwriter has so many songs in his repertoire you could see him once a month for a year and you’d hear new stuff each time. And since he doesn’t plan the banter between songs ahead of time, you’d feel like he was there just to chat to you.
Schneider is prolific. He spawns songs through a songwriting circle among musician friends. Each week they write a new song based on a prompt he sends out. He writes poetry the same way, churning out new poems faster than an Austin Tex-Mex restaurant can sell breakfast tacos.
Schneider plays almost every Monday night at the Saxon Pub, where he samples new music and dredges up songs no one has heard in years.
Friday night, he pulled out old standbys like “40 Dogs (Romeo and Juliet)” and “Tarantula,” but also played a Broadway-themed piece from a musical he wrote about a gambler, ballads and tunes that made him sound like a country singer.
Schneider’s a chameleon; he can’t be categorized, and it’s like it’s a personal challenge to see how many kinds of music he can master. But pay attention; it’s the lyrics more than the voice that set him apart.
At one point, the spotlight veered away from Schneider, dressed in spiffy black dress pants, white shirt and dinner jacket, and illuminated head-bobbing sideman Oliver Steck, trumpet glittering, playing from a box seat high above the audience. The crowd went wild.
Schneider has spent 25 years as a recording artist. He started as frontman for Joe Rockhead, then led the Ugly Americans, alongside former members of Cracker, Poi Dog Pondering and Mojo Nixon’s band. Then came the Scabs. He’s a six-time Musician of the Year winner at the Austin Music Awards.
Now Schneider’s mostly solo, but the gig with the string quartet showed his smoother, suit-wearing side.
The members of the Tosca String Quartet — Leigh Mahoney and Tracy Seeger on violin, Ames Asbell on viola and Sara Nelson on cello — are all classically trained musicians, but they know how to rock. Since the group formed, they’ve collaborated with other big names, from the Dixie Chicks to Bonnie Raitt, Ray Benson to Vampire Weekend.
They’re a nice ying to Schneider’s yang, and Friday night they did a fine job.
As for Schneider, chalk it up as one more show that demonstrates why he and his shaggy beard deserve their place at the head of the local music table.