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I Got The Hots For You
A Man's Got To Know His Limitations, Briggs
Serpent At The Gates Of Wisdom
Not Dark Yet (DYLAN)
The Yip Song
Raymond Chandler Evening
Your Feelings Are The Last Thing to Die (new instrumental)
Queen Of Eyes
My Mind Is Connected To Your Dreams
I Feel Beautiful
Veins Of The Queen
One Long Pair Of Eyes
Sleeping With Your Devil Mask
She Doesn't Exist Anymore
Visions Of Johanna
We all need heroes, I guess, and I confess Robyn Hitchcock is one of mine. Last night in Chicago, he delivered the goods with an exceptional 95-minute solo set here at Park West, accompanying himself on acoustic and electric guitar... with the occasional harmonica, and hilarious between-song patter...
Robyn's an acquired taste, one I picked up about ten years ago. He's the kind of artist that people can take for granted at the moment, but as his career gets longer and longer he's looking better and better. Look back over his large discography over the last 25 years and all the great songs he's written... personally I can't think of anyone to match the quality of his output over that period, not even Elvis Costello.
Take the Soft Boys... when they were a band back in the late 70s, the biggest audience they ever played for was about 300 people. They barely managed to put out a couple of albums and their classic Underwater Moonlight was waxed for pennies... they were out of step with the times but made music that sounds timeless now.
Plus he's channelled the spirit of Syd Barrett, although he's much more than that... a true original, an excellent and underrated guitar player who combines the folk purity of a Nick Drake with Roger McGuinn pop jangle. His songs don't get covered a lot, but I've heard renditions by Coffee Creek (an alt-country I Wanna Destroy You, with Farrar vocal) to the Grateful Dead (Chinese Bones).
Anyway, Robyn promises there will be a new SB disc and tour this fall, with the same lineup that toured America last year... there's a new concert film Elixirs and Remedies set to premiere (a set from 2000 with Grant Lee Phillips). Meantime, last night we got a mixture of a few new tunes, a couple of Dylan covers, and some old lyrical faves revived.
At the entrance you could purchase RH's new, self-released 2-CD Dylan tribute. I understand this is a combination of live and studio material, some of which has circulated as a boot. (In 1996, Robyn put a band together and replayed the setlist of the so-called "Royal Albert Hall" '66 concert... part of that is included.)
Robyn's set ended with a stunningly perfect rendition of Dylan's "Visions of Johanna," which he says inspired him to be a singer/songwriter.
Got to the Park West early and found Dolph + Becca, Carissa, et al pretty easily. I think it was the balloons and crayola paint pens which tipped me off. We settled into small booths about 25ft from center stage. Mike Viola's opening set got a deserved ear from the crowd, his slower stuff especially was quite strong I thought.
Robyn came on wearing a crazed lilac shirt patterned with white daisies and bright red birds. Hair seemed much grayer than I remember from the last couple of tours, but then we're all getting older. What really struck me was how good his voice was, clear and high on "Serpent," then going full and low on "Not Dark Yet." I think the setting - an amp, two guitars, two mikes and him - really let the subtleties shine. As Dolph pointed out, he didn't have to try and shout over the SB's noise.
"Insect Mother" was a stunning opener, and he seemed to relish the wordplay on "I Got the Hots." Most of the main set was in the quiet vein, 8 out of the first 14 songs being from the softer side of Robyn - "Linctus House," "Raymond Chandler Evening" (I heard the same lyrics you did, Kay), "Your Feelings are the Last Things to Die," etc. Which was fine, it really suited the mood in the room well, I thought. His guitar technique was spot on as well.
He did confirm "Mind is Connected" will be on the Fall SB's record, and played an interesting acousting 'pencil' version of it. "Unprotected Love" was fantastic too, this might have been my favorite of the entire evening. All in all the main set was fantastic, really, and I think it ran about 62min.
Encore 1 (in a paisley paramecium shirt) was more upbeat on the acoustic, and we got "Veins of the Queen" preceeded by the 'pyramid of Royals' bit with the death of the Queen Mother tossed in. "One Long Pair of Eyes" and "Devil Mask" followed. Encore 2 capped the night with "She Doesn't Exist" (on elec) and "Visions of Johanna," note perfect each one.
A quick fegbite after (yes, we took a picture Nick) and off home.
Someone earlier commented onlist that it felt like he had freedom in the setlist due to not having an album to push, and that is exactly right I thought. We got two Dylan songs, and he himself described "Robyn Sings" as a vanity project (drawing a typically Robynesque parallel with God and Bryan Ferry)...but there didn't seem to be any pressure to perform more. Though it's a different animal entirely from the '99 tour, I'd have to say I liked this one even more.
There were 4 cones for sale $20 each last night, woulda coulda shoulda but didn't buy one. Other than that, CD's only it seemed.
Robyn opened the April 16th show by saying in a mock-alien voice "That was Courtney Love." He then went on to explain how he was "lurneeng yore urth layng-wuj" so he could say important things like "That was Courtney Love." I don't know what's going on in Robyn's brain but it was damn fun to watch it unravel. He opened with the big surprise Insect Mother. I was hoping for Mexican God, but seeing Insect Mother live was a treat.
After "Hots", he went on to tell the big story about Magnum Force and Clint Eastwood so he could play A Man's Got To Know His Limitations, Briggs. This new song sounds a lot like Daisy Bomb. Similar chords.
Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom, Unprotected Love and Queen of Eyes were all perfect.
The Yip Song involved the disco ball and some purple and orange lights. It was spellbinding. Think Storefront Hitchcock's Airscape only much more manic. IT was stunningly cool. As was a beautiful rendition of Linctus House. I was floored. He closed the main set by dedicating I Feel Beautiful to Arafat and Sharon.
The encores opened with one of my favourites - Veins of the Queen. There was a long rant preceding it involving Bob Dylan and Queen Elizabeth both having beautiful curly hair. The encores were spectacular. Veins of the Queen was especially fab as Robyn sang both the lead and backing vocals throughout the song. Despite the audience cries for songs, he seemed to have a planned route for the evening. I heard folks yell for Bass, Ye Sleeping Knights Of Jesus, Mexican God and Acid Bird but I don't imagine they were disappointed with Devil Mask and She Doesn't Exist (another of my favourites which in this version, switched to 2nd person halfway through).
It was a very subdued evening. Very relaxing and engaging and filled with a light sense of fun.
Also, I can't recommend Mike Viola more highly. I'd recently discovered his songs online and was quite pleased to see that he would be opening for Robyn. Musically, he's running in a similar vein as Mr Hitchcock only raspier and a bit more constrained in the standard pop song structure. Mike is a wicked talented guitar player and I fell in love with his voice the first time I heard it. He gives a great show with interesting anecdotes between songs. Go see him, even if he's not opening for Robyn at the time.
All in all, this show was definitely worth the 3 and a half hour drive into Chicago rush hour and then getting home at 4:15 AM after 6 hours in the car without A/C. Linctus House alone was worth that.