Concert Review by Eric Sandberg
There was a time not too long ago when it seemed like Robyn Hitchcock might be getting old. After his association with The Venus 3 [R.E.M. alumni Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin] came to its natural conclusion, Hitchcock's black and white polka dot Telecaster drifted to the back of his closet.
Hitchcock toured extensively with his acoustic guitar, recording only sporadically, his voice showing some raspy wear and tear on the higher notes. During this period Hitchcock moved to Nashville and had chance encounter in a festival audience with a wry, whip-smart singer/songwriter from Australia named Emma Swift. The two struck up a friendship, a romance, and a partnership.
Swift began appearing on stage with Hitchcock, providing lush and ethereal harmony vocals, taking Hitchcock acoustic classics like "Glass Hotel" and "Raining Twilight Coast" to new heights. They released two well received vinyl singles together and Hitchcock became inspired to push aside the golf clubs in the closet and fish out his electric guitar, playing shows on tour with pickup bands in various cities and a special show performing his first solo album Black Snake Diamond Röle with Yo La Tengo backing him up.
The Hitchconaissance continued, with Hitchcock penning the gorgeous "Sunday Never Comes" for Ethan Hawke to sing in the film Juliet Naked, and later releasing a single with an electric band version of the song along with the urgent "Take Off Your Bandages."
If that weren't enough, a fabled potential collaboration with XTC songsmith Andy Partridge manifested itself in the number one [in Great Britain] selling EP Planet England. All this and the indefatigable Hitchcock continues to tour, never letting his fans across North America, the UK and Europe go too long without a chance to see him entertain.
Robyn Hitchcock's December appearance at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles has become something of an annual event. In the past they have featured numerous guests on stage, most notably Heartbreaker, and session ace, Benmont Tench, Jon Brion and, of course, Emma Swift.
This year the show was nearly 100% Robyn Hitchcock on stage, by himself, with an acoustic guitar [he was joined midway through the second set by Emma Swift and Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats on harmony vocals] but no one was the least bit disappointed as Hitchcock played two engaging sets, drawing heavily from his A&M period. "Balloon Man," "Madonna of the Wasps," "One Long Pair of Eyes," "So You Think You're In Love," as well as "Raining Twilight Coast," "Linctus House" and "Glass Hotel" from the beloved Twin Tone solo album Eye.
Hitchcock sounds utterly rejuvenated, his voice returned to full strength, easily navigating the highs and lows. With Hitchcock's unorthodox playing style, his fret hand often resembles a tarantula scampering up and down the neck of his guitar.
Hitchcock began the second set at the house piano, playing his first solo single "The Man Who Invented Himself," "Ted, Woody and Junior" [a song inspired by a feature in a thinly disguised men's fitness magazine], and a brand new "song in progress" which is among the most sophisticated, beautiful and un-cynical love songs this, now young, man has ever written.
As usual, Hitchcock delivered his highly entertaining, stream of consciousness, between-song banter, eliciting many laugh out loud moments. Hitchcock's digressions are ephemeral and hard to remember the next morning. I do recall several references to spores, squids and his cat, a one-eyed Scottish Fold named Tubby; along with the notion that poor old Great Britain appears to be in the process of shedding Scotland, Ireland and Wales and will soon be towed across the pond and moored off the coast of Delaware. Perhaps the funniest moment came during the encore as Hitchcock prepared to sing Bob Dylan's "Dear Landlord."
"Some people resist aging and some move right along with it. The composer of this next song is like wax that is melting faster than the candle. He's become unrecognizable."
Hitchcock began the encore at the piano, banging out an astounding arrangement of the early Pink Floyd classic "Astronomy Domine," From my vantage point, near the back of the house, Hitchcock's hands began to resemble lobster claws as they rose and fell onto the keys. Robyn returned to the guitar for one final number, John Lennon's "God" [I dare you to name another artist with that song in their repertoire].
In an era when most veteran artists, of great and small stature, milk their fans with pricey meet and greet sessions, Robyn Hitchcock continues to come out to greet a lengthy line of fans, Sharpie in hand, no charge.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.