The world consists of two kinds of people: The kind who have never heard of Robyn Hitchcock, and the kind who, when confronted with that same name, light up and exclaim something to the effect that they’ve heard of him, they like him, they like his songs, his shirts, his shows, his offbeat, comical comments and bizarre advice to his audience. Like yin and yang – darkness and light – one cannot exist without the other. Right, if everyone in the world was in that second group, what a boring world that would be. Though not as boring as if everyone was in the first group. As you might surmise I fall into the second group and continue to be amazed at each song Mr. Hitchcock produces…or in my schizomusical sense of time, each song I hear for the first time as if it’s newly-produced. Wait, I guess that’s how a lot of people approach music – I mean how many of us are currently living in 1782 and looking forward to the next Mozart opera? Still reading this and trying to make heads, tails, or in-between of it? Then consider yourself a card-carrying member of that second group. Or soon-to-be. Because now you have heard of Robyn Hitchcock and there’s no getting around that, is there??
image courtesy http://www.exeterphoenix.org.uk
So anyway, Robyn Hitchcock. On November 19th I make my way down Varick Street (not up Sixth Avenue or Balloon Man woulda blown up in my face – what? – read on) to witness the first of two Hitchcock performances at City Winery…
…settling in just in time to see Mr. H materialize, bedecked in acoustic guitar and black-with-white-polka-dot shirt (his current trademark – he also appears to have blue and green versions), and pour forth an ‘unplugged’ (remember that term from 1990’s MTV) rendition of his ‘greatest hit’, “Balloon Man.” The track is from his 1988 album with backing band The Egyptians, Globe of Frogs, and contains lots of lyrical references to midtown Manhattan, including lines about walking up Sixth Avenue to 44th Street. Which, by strange coincidence, is where I worked at the time the song was born. It’s also about being spattered with tomatoes, hummus, and chickpeas. I don’t recall that happening to me too often as I arrived for work, although it probably could have if one of the nearby falafel trucks decided to explode.
Oh, the City Winery concert… The set continues with “Mexican God” from 1999’s Jewels for Sophia and a bunch from 2004’s Spooked (apropos since, like the CW show, that album is largely acoustic, recorded in Nashville with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings): “If You Know Time,” “Sometimes a Blonde,” “Television,” and “Creeped Out” all creep in there, between songs from his latest, The Man Upstairs, staples like “Queen Elvis” from Eye, and the whimsical “Uncorrected Personality Traits” from I Often Dream of Trains. The evening is also peppered with the surrealistic storyteller’s between-song tales and sips from a cozy-looking coffee cup.
Presently Emma Swift emerges and joins Robyn to sing their new digital collaboration “Love Is a Drag” and a couple of others…Robyn dons “part of Bob Dylan’s wardrobe,” a harmonica holder…and finally a double-whammy encore from his 1986 record with The Egyptians, Element of Light: the gorgeous title track (actually titled “Airscape”) and the current-state-of-affairs-befitting finale, “The President.” As the lights go up, Mr. Hitchcock retreats backstage…then magically – how else – appears at the front of the venue to greet fans and sign copies of his latest releases.
And so, for those now curious to take in the marvelous music of Mr. Hitchcock, please check out his first solo album, Black Snake Dîamond Röle, the aforementioned Element of Light, 1991’s Perspex Island, 1996’s Moss Elixir and Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Greatest Hits, as well as the guy’s work with the Venus 3 (featuring Peter Buck of R.E.M.) and a classic from his first band The Soft Boys, 1980’s Underwater Moonlight. There’s also a nice playlist here and a 2014 interview here.
See you at his next performance somewhere, preferably in this universe but then again…who can tell…