Robyn Hitchcock @ The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, Mass.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
When you go to a Robyn Hitchcock show, the well-crafted songs are the main draw, but the stream of surrealism dialog between the finely chiseled ditties about love and fish and/or insects is equally entertaining. He suggested that we text the Pope regarding advice on sex; prior to playing "I Got The Hots" from his first band, the Soft Boys, he made the claim that Paul Simon presaged texting and inserted a timely lyric addendum with respect to the BP oil disaster. All parts of reality, past and future, as well as the unknown and fanciful, are fair game when spilling off the tongue of Hitchcock.
Hitchcock was touring on the new Propellor Time (he hinted that it will be his last physical artifact, the rest of his music presumably being available only via digital downloads). The fresh material was mostly given short shrift aside from the excellent Johnny Marr-penned "Ordinary Millionaire," humbly introduced by saying Marr "wrote the song...too bad it's got words." Right before playing this, he told the crowd that "if you are going to record for Youtube, don't bother. It's already up there."
Words are what set Hitchcock apart from like-minded Beatles/Barrett/Dylan-steeped songwriters, and he's truly one of a kind. Since he was all alone on stage and away from his current band, the Venus 3 (three quarters of the Minus 5 and three-fifths of REM), he could indulge in more banter than usual. If you've ever wondered what Richard Nixon's nickname was, it was Pogo Baby. If you ever wondered what happened to it, Spiro Agnew tucked it under a tarpaulin and spirited it away to an unnamed island of Hawaii to bury it. Welcome to the convoluted gray matter-fueled discharge of Hitchcock's worldview.
But he can do more than just the absurd and oblique. An achingly gorgeous "She Doesn't Exist Anymore" was dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt, and a truly emotionally naked and direct song "Red Locust Frenzy" was written for his wife, Michelle. "The Wreck of the Arthur Lee" was a paean to Love's mercurial founder, and unfortunately he didn't follow it with another truly heart-wrenching song for another fallen Arthur, "New York Doll," written for the late Arthur Kane. After a detailed description of the Clint Eastwood/Hal Holbrook drama that led to the creation of the most excellently named "(A Man's Got To Know His Limitations) Briggs," he left the stage for a brief period before the encore.
And what an encore. Unnecessarily apologizing that the penalty of seeing him play is having to hear him sing his record collection, Hitchcock picked perfectly tailored songs for the ending, starting with "Terrapin" (Barrett), into a transcendent version of Nick Drake's "River Man," into "Crystal Ship" from the Doors and finally a perfect ending with Dylan's "Visions of Johanna." This is a man with nary a recorded misstep in over 35 years of activity. And there is no decline in sight.
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