Robyn Hitchcock, ABC2, Glasgow
Wednesday 11 February 2009
The dry between-song observations of Robyn Hitchcock say a lot about the man and his crowd. He speaks of old-fashioned tram cars, and the days when Nationwide catered for the UK's local news needs. The British cultural progression of the past half-century, Hitchcock-style, runs "trams, Beatles, Nationwide, punk – that's it all, right there". "Nationwide," he ruminates. "Of course, people still believed in society back then."
As a performer and a man, the London-born Hitchcock is a glorious anachronism. He first emerged more than 30 years ago as a member of the Cambridge punks the Soft Boys, and his adoration for the traditional English pop songwriting of the Beatles and their ilk is undisguised. A lyricist with the satirical bite of Morrissey, the 55-year-old is also capable of dispensing wry bon mots like a Radio 2 presenter. He reminds one of Top Gear's James May, with a floppy grey fringe and a psychedelic black-and-white polka-dot shirt only adding to the sense of raging individuality.
Musically, all of these echoes and influences condense into something special. Hitchcock swings between the jangling surf-guitar techno of "Nasa Clapping" and the heart-stoppingly sweet Buddy Holly balladry of "Full Moon in My Soul". "Stick with me, baby/ You'll be glad that I'm the one you found," he sings on the latter, while casting perfect allusions to love being the light that brightens his dark soul. Yet the introduction to the former track registers his disgust at the hopeful excitement of the space race. "There's a thin line between disgusting and exciting," he says.
Much of which must paint him as a dreadful cynic, but there's a warmth in his nature that counteracts even the most pessimistic utterances. "This is a mean-spirited song," he says, before "Never Have to See You Again". "But I wrote it only in self-defence." Then he closes the main set with the Soft Boys' "Insanely Jealous". His well-worn neuroses are sharp like a blade.
Among lyrical fragments that are always engaging and sometimes potent, Hitchcock's guitar and the sound of the bassist and drummer who round out his power trio betray a wealth of influences from this country's musical icons. "Saturday Groovers" is a cheerful, Small Faces-esque stomp that ponders "heart disease and gout"; "Beautiful Queen" thrives on chiming, George Harrison-like guitar lines; "I'm Only You" climaxes with the scratchy, reverberatingly plucked guitar notes of an early Pink Floyd jam.
Hitchcock's friendship and collaborations with REM's Peter Buck – most recently on the latest album from their group, Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3, Goodnight Oslo – contribute to his (undeservedly limited) success. The record's amphetamine-influenced and -paced title track closed the evening, but not before Hitchcock promised to forge Buck's signature on the CDs for sale at the back of the room.
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