Robyn Hitchcock @ Musical Instrument Museum| 10/4/12
The Musical Instrument Museum theater was a lonely place this evening, with a scant 50 music insiders in attendance to hear one of England's great musical treasures, Robyn Hitchcock. Insiders, I say, because it takes a certain kind of music fan, one that appreciates the dry wit, quirkiness, strange mumblings, and metaphysical ramblings of a musician with something more to sing about than sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll -- or at least not in the typical fashion.
Hitchcock did cover those topics, adding death, politics and geography into the mix, in something of a subdued fashion. While engaging and professional, he seemed disappointed in the turnout and commented several times about his upcoming gig in Tucson. Nevertheless, armed with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, Hitchcock could not be expected to propel the crowd to its feet, though he certainly provided some rousing moments -- and a number of solemn ones as well -- as he explored his deep and diverse catalog.
With Hitchcock, it's almost a "where do you start?"-type question. With nearly 40 years of performing and recording, but no real hits demanding to be played, his shows are pretty much a free-for-all exploration of his deep catalog.
With a set list written out on miniature pumpkins, Hitchcock rolled from the melodramatic and dreary to the cheery and witty to the quirky and oddball of his songs, all with a wide-ranging voice that swung low to high, holding straggling notes like the Beach Boys, or spouting almost a Bob Dylan-like stream of consciousness. Hitchcock's better known tracks included "Queen Elvis," "Madonna of the Wasps," and "When I Was Dead."
As much as everyone was eager for Hitchcock's music, his between-song banter is equally important, something that defines the Hitchcock experience. With a wild shock of silver hair, and dressed in black boots, purple pants and a pink and white floral shirt, great one-liners included, "Have a fabulous election and beautiful consequences," and "This is a love song to my home country that I miss so much that I have to live there," which predicated the ironically dreary "Dismal City."
After an engaging 60 minutes of homespun material, Hitchcock closed out the show with covers by Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, and David Bowie. The songs were inspirational to Hitchcock's early development, and here he paid great tribute. "It turned into me, and I turned into it," he said of Dylan's "Visions of Johanna." It seemed easily equally true of the other cover material.
In the end, those who were in attendance got an intimate performance by a singer-songwriter of unparalleled wit, character and song craft.
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And, a few, even left with pumpkins.