Monday, April 18, 2016

Robyn Hitchcock at the Grey Eagle

Took a nice, leisurely trip up to Asheville this past weekend with Vera Valmore, kind of a mini-vacation inspired by Robyn Hitchcock -- a longtime fave of mine -- having come to play a gig at the Grey Eagle on Saturday.

Hitchcock is someone I’ve been listening to for more than three decades, which means I started picking up his records not that long after he started making them. I wore out the Soft Boys albums, his solo LPs, and those he made fronting the Egyptians, picking up and studying just about everything right through the ’90s and after. And I have continued checking in on the more recent stuff as well, including his latest, The Man Upstairs, released a couple of summers ago.

I saw him play a couple of times way back when -- once during late ’80s, then another time around ’91 -- and in fact I even dragged Vera to the second of those shows. Since then he’s slowed down somewhat, having evolved from a loud, electrified rocker with psychedelic tendencies into a softer, acoustic-based act that strikes newcomers as a kind of weird neo-folk, although the inspired, surreal lyricism remains the most conspicuous common thread tying together the different eras.

Seeing him again kind of paralleled the experience I was describing last week when I located and listened to a boot of a Bruce Springsteen show I’d attended over thirty years ago. I say that because of the uncanny deja-voodoo I experienced as Hitchcock happened to play some of the same songs I’d heard him perform before all those years ago.

One I know he played at the earlier shows was the meditative “Raymond Chandler Evening,” a kind of homage to the hard-boiled writer filled with dark, gritty imagery that contrasts with the sweet arpeggios carrying its catchy melody. (Was delighted when he tossed in an extra verse I’d never heard before, introducing another crime scene into the proceedings.) He followed that Saturday with another one from the same 1986 album Element of Light -- “Bass” -- a song I’m also pretty sure he played when back when I last saw him.

Vera and I had to laugh when he began “Bass.” Earlier in the evening we’d enjoyed a very fun dinner with our poker-playing friends PokerGrump and CardGrrl, and Vera and I both happened to have ordered bass for our entrees. I joked then Hitchcock had a song by that name, though I doubted he’d play it... and then he did.

Someone’s already uploaded that particular track to YouTube, if you’re curious. In fact, I'm noticing other songs from the show on there, too, and have linked to each from the titles in this post. During one of Hitchcock’s many extemporaneous acts of word association used to introduce songs (a signature trait), he joked about skipping ahead in the YouTube video, fully conscious of the fact that many artists’ performances get instantly memorialized in this way.

Hitchcock actually split the bill with the comedian, Eugene Mirman. Hitchcock came on first, playing about 10 or 11 songs, with other highlights including “I'm Only You” and the Dylan cover “Not Dark Yet” with which he opened.

After that Mirman made us laugh for about 45 minutes, then the pair both carried on a suitably absurd conversation onstage for a while before Hitchcock closed the night with “My Wife and My Dead Wife” (another ’80s-era track I’d seen him play in the past). A great time, start to finish.

My only bit of chronicling during the show was to snap that poor-looking pic up above, one showing Hitchcock squinting out into the crowd in a fashion that seems to suit the photo’s lack of clarity. As I was telling PokerGrump and Cardgrrl after our dinner, I’ve lately found myself actively opposing the whole take-a-picture-of-everything urge that so often possesses us these days. (Not to mention the subsequent feeling of being obliged to broadcast those pictures via one’s preferred form of social media.)

I guess I archive plenty enough here on the blog, although that exercise is a little different. Here I force myself to translate experience into words, that act alone being enough to make whatever it is much more memorable than tends to happen when snapping a pic or shooting a short vid.

The whole weekend was like that, really, spent mostly unplugged -- like Hitchcock.

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