It’s hard to imagine a more sincere songwriter than Micah Schnabel. He wears his heart on his sleeve and emotion pours from his voice, his urgent strumming conveys as much as his smart lyrics. “This is the closest thing I’ve ever written to a love song,” he claimed early on, “I failed miserably.” He’s wrong though; every song is a love song, full of passion. Mostly it’s about being in love with music, living on the road and trying to make everything work. They should all be hits; they’re all so damn catchy and anthemic, and you wish you knew all the words (and there are a lot of them), so you could sing along. After each song you think you’re never going to get it out of your head till the next song gets in there and wiggles around.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite, when he asked for requests I couldn’t pick one but I am sure he played them all anyway. “When the Stage Lights Go Dim” is an honest look at the life of a touring musician, all the late nights and hangovers and broken hearts. The title track to his first solo record “American Static” was a burnburner, “It’s American static, so automatic, five, four, three, two, one,” like he’s counting down a rocket launch. “Thanks for asking, but things have never been worse,” he says in one of the only songs he played that didn’t feel autobiographical. In fact it seems like things are going pretty great. He’s traveling with his artist girlfriend, doing what makes him happy. “I love doing this more than anything, so when you ask me to do more,” he said before the encore, “it isn’t very hard to convince me.” In fact the only thing that didn’t seem right was the rental car they were traveling in. “It’s red,” he said, “and that just doesn’t seem to fit me, I think it’s messing with my head.” In fact it seemed weird to see him in anything other than the Two Cow van which advertises “Hot Leathers” the company that prints all their T-shirts.
I’d asked him to stop thanking me, after all, like I always say, I do these shows for me, but there is one thing I will take credit for. He ate his first mushroom ever tonight. Hard to believe, right? “I grew up white trash, eating nothing but pizza, Coke and Wendy’s cheeseburgers,” he said by way of explanation. Not only were mushrooms served, they were the main part of the meal. Eating a Portobello mushroom must seem weird to someone who’s never had any mushrooms. The good news is he liked it.
It’s always entertaining having Robby Schiller open a show. Those who only know him as the lead singer of the Blueheels don’t know what they are missing. His solo stuff bears a heavy Harry Nilsson influence but he’s always surprised when people call him on it. When one woman started singing “take the lime and the coconut and mix them all up” after his hilarious song about hippies doing acid, he laughed, “I don’t expect the people who see me to have heard of Harry Nilsson. He was even more hilarious than usual; a pre-show whiskey seemed to have loosened him up. “What does this thing do?” he exclaimed after putting the capo on the neck of the guitar, “this changes everything!” That’s funny, because it does.
He opened with Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me,” covered memorably, but not better, by Johnny Cash on his American Recordings record. He also pulled out the classic “Danny Boy” which he sung with conviction early in the set. The fan favorite seemed to be “Outdoor Cat” which he wrote from the point of view of the cat next door watching his cat through the window. “Oh to be an outdoor cat, bathed in baby bunny blood, a puff of feathers when I sneeze,” drew many laughs. He promises all these new songs will be on a record soon. And in fact most of them were new, I only knew a few and “Meaner than the Wolves Outside” was the only one I would call old. I love that he feels so comfortable playing in the basement that he will try out new songs. In fact he told me he liked playing the house so much that he would open for a lamp in my living room. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I’m pretty sure it is a compliment.