field report no.040316

LOCATION: The Grand Victory BK.NY
SUBJECT: Robyn Hitchcock

Part of trying to make the most out of living in NYC can mean opting out of seeing things twice. There's so much on offer, I'll favor new experiences. There are some artists so dear to me, though, if they come through town? I'm there. Every time. It can be an odd sort of yearbook, settling in with a familiar experience and examining your evolving relationship to it. I've been seeing Robyn Hitchcock live for decades now. Even though any veneer of mystery long ago faded, there's something sating in the experience, still. Spending time with his music feels like catching up with an old friend who's visiting town.

I've always been impressed by Hitchcock's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of his own songs. Sure, it's his job, but with a songbook that stretches four decades and about two dozen records, I'd forgive the odd, obscure b-side or deep album cut slipping through the cracks. But no, Robyn seems to have them all stashed away—odd tunings and all. I remember a show at Schuba's, in Chicago, where in lieu of a setlist, he passed out a clipboard and pencil for people to write requests.

The last couple of times I've seen him, he's been solo—with his partner, Emma Swift, on harmonies for the latter part of the set (as well as opening for him, this night). I've noticed songs originally recorded solo seem to have simpler, more traditionally folksy structures; whereas pieces written for bands require more clever arrangements.

Early on, he mentioned feeling in a 'Lou Reed kind of mood' before going into a rendition of Caroline Says. Serendipitously, we had just been spinning Berlin, earlier that day. He closed the evening with a heartfelt cover of Velvet Underground's Pale Blue Eyes, shedding some of Lou's ironic distance. Considering Hitchcock was in town to participate in the Bowie Memorial Concerts, the fragile beauty of Robyn's take on this VU classic could be seen as a tender homage to (another) departed hero.

NOTES: Robyn Hitchcock; Emma Swift