Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Show Review-- Robyn Hitchcock @ The Granada

(Yes, all of us here at We Shot JR are going to get back into the business of reviewing shows. We figured we'd had like a year off, and that it was time to start trying again, you know? Anyway, we also realized that we, as in myself and DL, don't have the time to attend all the shows we want to cover, much less write about them, so we have elicited a bit of help. This first review comes courtesy of our new friend Jesseca Bagherpour, who ventured to the Granada Theater to see Robyn Hitchcock perform and to take some pictures of the show, some of which you're looking at right now. Normally you'll find show reviews on our main page, but admittedly, we didn't get around to publishing this one until it was a little bit tardy, which is why you see it here. Anyway, enjoy.)-- SR

Critics have called Robyn Hitchcock a “cult figure,” “a musical icon” and “the closest thing this generation has to Bob Dylan” (by “this generation,” I can only assume they mean people who were in their 20s during the early 1980s, when his post Soft Boys solo career began). But for my money, Robyn Hitchcock is the safer bet when it comes to live performances. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly admire Dylan. He’s a brilliant lyricist, of course, and his vast influence on music is undeniable. But the man has seen better days. Even hardcore fans are willing to admit that his live shows are mediocre at least four times out of five. Sadly, I caught one of the not-so-stellar performances, and although I was amazed to be in the same room as a musical legend, I found myself struggling to pay attention.

Hitchcock, on the other hand, held me mesmerized during his entire set. And I wasn’t alone. I found myself surrounded by mostly middle-aged people (he’s their Dylan, remember) gazing up at Hitchcock, enraptured by him. They were singing along and dancing. One amusingly drunk woman even slurred, “He’s awesome,” in another amusingly drunk woman’s ear. And she was right. Hitchcock and his backing band, The Venus 3 (featuring Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin, all from R.E.M.), seamlessly blended material from his recent album with his classics throughout the set.

As Hitchcock said at the beginning of the performance, “Don’t worry, all these songs are very old, or they sound like they are.” It’s not that all of Hitchcock’s work sounds the same, although he generally sticks to the themes of sex, food and death, its that his songs have an almost timeless quality which sometimes makes it difficult to pinpoint the era they’re from. Buck, McCaughey and Rieflin’s signature styles did shine through a bit, but rather than screaming “R.E.M.”, they lent themselves to Hitchcock’s material (and not just the Venus 3 stuff).

Because the band played so superbly and Hitchcock was in perfect form, it was hard to pick my favorite songs from the set, although a few stood out from the rest. “What You Is” is a psychedelic/R&B tune and it’s one of my favorites from 2009’s Goodnight Oslo-- I actually preferred the live version performed at the Granada, with McCaughey’s backing vocals replacing those of female singers on the record. McCaughey lent even more to “I’m Falling”, a borderline sappy love song with gorgeous harmonies that redeem it, which was followed by “Airscape,” from Element of Light, yet another perfectly executed song. By the way, the entire aforementioned album is brilliant and makes me wish I had been three when it was released in 1986, but hearing the song live eased that pain, especially considering Hitchcock’s mind-blowing guitar solo. “Somewhere Apart” (also from Element of Light) drew several people to the front of the stage, coaxing some away from their cozy seats. One audience member felt so moved that he yelled, “Holy shit!” at the end of the song, although alcohol could easily have prompted that.

Throughout the set, it was made perfectly clear that Hitchcock wasn’t satisfied with letting his music do all the entertaining, as his trademark witty and often odd banter filled the gaps between each song. He introduced songs philosophically- “It may not be possible to achieve peace of mind but you can achieve total indifference.” And he ended them with irony- “That’s from an album I have coming out in November 1986!” There was even a surreal bit where he explained the items on his stool. He had a cone there to “keep anything from parking” on it, a penguin named Earl to watch over the cone and, as a last line of defense, a crocodile. If someone were to infiltrate all three lines of defense, chaos would break loose. Hitchcock’s explanation, of course, was much more involved and bizarre.

Not only did the performance exceeded my expectations, it reinforced my passion for Hitchcock’s music and renewed my recently-dwindling interest in live shows. A pretty good night indeed.

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