Monday, June 22, 2020

Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift: Sweet Home Quarantine Week 13: Robyn Mix

Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift’s Stageit show for week 13 of “Sweet Home Quarantine” was a mix of Robyn’s songs. Performed on June 17, 2020, the show was made up of audience requests via social media. The show began with Robyn solo, singing “Freeze” and “Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom.” Emma then joined Robyn and sang “N.Y. Doll,” which she said is her favorite song of Robyn’s. It’s a great song from Hitchcock’s excellent 2006 album Ole! Tarantula. Emma sang it beautifully, and when she finished Robyn said, “That’s a nice tune,” as though he was hearing it in a new way when Emma sang it.

Robyn said “We’re going to do one of my radio hits. I had about 3 ½ radio hits.” It was “Balloon Man,” from 1988’s Globe of Frogs album. It’s a catchy bit of pop surrealism that Robyn wrote for the Bangles. In interviews, Robyn has expressed antipathy towards “Balloon Man,” and it was clear from last week’s concert that he prefers one of his other radio hits, “Madonna of the Wasps.” 

“Saturday Groovers” was up next, one of my favorite Hitchcock songs, and as usual, Robyn and Emma sounded great together on it. Robyn then sang “Ordinary Millionaire” and “De Chirico Street” solo. I’ve always liked “De Chirico Street,” as Moss Elixir was one of the first Hitchcock albums I got into. “Ordinary Millionaire” was co-written with Johnny Marr, and after the song Emma laughed and said, “Hitcho, you’re not even close to a millionaire!” Robyn laughed and said, “Well, I was on paper around that time, I had some property…and then I got divorced.” It’s always interesting to hear little tidbits like that. The financial part of the music industry has always fascinated me, and I’ve pondered Robyn Hitchcock’s finances more than you might guess. It’s easy to daydream about the wealth of musicians who are super successful, like Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney or David Bowie or Adele, but I’m really intrigued by someone like Robyn Hitchcock: he’s been around for a long time, but he’s never broken through to a huge audience the way other artists have. How much money does Robyn Hitchcock make from Spotify? Probably not very much.

Emma returned for “The Wreck of the Arthur Lee,” “Madonna of the Wasps,” and “I Pray When I’m Drunk.” Robyn then sang “A Globe of Frogs” solo, and the show ended with a verse or two of “Queen of Eyes.” Emma playfully put out her hand to stop Robyn’s guitar playing, and he looked mildly surprised at this. She explained that she wanted to say a proper goodbye, and not just end in the middle of a chorus. Robyn said, “Let me Hitchsplain that I know how long my songs are.” It’s funny little moments like these that make the “Sweet Home Quarantine” shows so much fun.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift: Sweet Home Quarantine-the 1980's Show, Part 2

A screenshot from Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift's "Sweet Home Quarantine: the 1980's" show, June 12, 2020.
The setlist for Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift’s second 1980’s show was very similar to the first show. If you’re a subscriber to Robyn’s Patreon page, you can watch the video of the second 1980’s show, and I’d highly recommend you do so. There are a lot of excellent songs.

Robyn started the show with Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” which he covered long ago on the “Madonna of the Wasps” CD-single. I always like it when Robyn sings Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, and he did a great job on “More Than This.” Robyn told a story about being in Oslo in 1982, the year “More Than This” came out, and feeling quite hopeless until he met the members of R.E.M. Robyn’s story reminded me of his 2009 song “Goodnight Oslo,” and I think he was talking about the dark time described in the song. Robyn then sang R.E.M.’s “You Are the Everything.” Next up was Robyn’s terrific version of Don Henley’s hit “The Boys of Summer,” with excellent guitar work.

Emma Swift joined Robyn for the unlikely choice of “Funkytown,” the one hit from Lipps Inc. (They were from Minneapolis!) Robyn worked a bit of his song “Brenda’s Iron Sledge” into “Funkytown,” so that was a fun detour. 

Emma got her solo spot with “I Drove All Night,” and rocked it, just like she did on Wednesday’s show. Emma really has a fantastic voice, and a song like “I Drove All Night” just shows it off so well. “Charlotte Ann” reappeared, with great guitar work, as did “Handle with Care,” which featured great vocals from Robyn and Emma. Emma also reprised her other solo spot from Wednesday, the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” which she really needs to record. Her vocals on the song are absolutely amazing, and with Robyn’s guitar, it’s a superb combination. 

“Love My Way” and “Walking on Sunshine” made appearances, and both songs sounded great. Robyn then said that he was leaving us in a “Bryan Ferry sandwich,” a phrase that sent Emma into laughter. Emma was wearing a very cool vintage 1988 Bryan Ferry tour t-shirt. They sang a great version of Roxy Music’s “Oh Yeah,” which was a great way to end the show. I’d love if it if Robyn and Emma did an all Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music “Sweet Home Quarantine” show in the future. We really need to hear Robyn sing/speak “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.”

Friday, June 19, 2020

Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift: Sweet Home Quarantine Week 12: the 1980's Show

Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift returned to Stageit on June 10th for week 12 of their at-home concert series, “Sweet Home Quarantine.” The theme was the 1980’s. It was great fun to see and hear Robyn and Emma singing some of their favorite songs from that decade.

Robyn wore a checked jacket that he bought in San Francisco in 1984. It definitely fit the bill for an 80’s show. Robyn opened the show solo with R.E.M.’s “You Are the Everything,” which he heard them play nearly every night when he opened for them in the late 1980’s. That was followed by Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” which might strike you as an unlikely song for Robyn to cover. But he did a great job, and his guitar playing was outstanding. Hearing “The Boys of Summer” played with just the guitar obviously strips the song down to the marrow, and you hear the song in a different way, isolated from the 1980’s production of the hit record. 

Emma Swift joined Robyn for “Charlotte Ann,” by Julian Cope, and two excellent Psychedelic Furs songs, “Love My Way,” and “The Ghost in You.” As always, Robyn and Emma’s voices blended superbly on these songs. Robyn previously covered “The Ghost in You” on his 2014 album The Man Upstairs, which I reviewed here. 

Emma then got a magnificent solo turn as she sang “I Drove All Night,” made famous by Cyndi Lauper, and also sung by Roy Orbison and Celine Dion. It was fantastic and makes me hope that Robyn and Emma record some of these quarantine songs and put them on an album. Or two. Or three. The Quarantine Sessions!

Robyn sang solo on Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On,” which he also covered on The Man Upstairs. It was a beautiful version of a great song. One of the things that makes Robyn’s version so interesting is that whereas Bryan Ferry’s original sounds like the smooth pick-up line of a confident lover-man, Robyn sounds like an earnest suitor, offering a sincere token of his love.

Emma then absolutely killed it with a beautifully haunting rendition of the Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” I’ve never really listened to much of the Smiths, and I had never heard this song before hearing Emma sing it, and I was knocked out by it. Correction—the internet tells me I heard the Smiths’ version in the movie (500) Days of Summer, with Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Oops. Well, Emma’s version was the first time the song stuck with me.

Robyn and Emma duetted on a great version of “Walking on Sunshine,” which was written by Robyn’s Soft Boys bandmate Kimberley Rew. It was odd to hear this song, one of the poppiest feel-good tunes of the 1980’s, sung by Robyn Hitchcock, but it was a fun tribute to Robyn’s friend and former bandmate. As Robyn said, “that song was brought to you with a cherry of nihilism on top—that would be self.” Thinking of Robyn as a cherry of nihilism brought a smile to my face. 

The last tune of the evening was the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle with Care,” complete with Robyn donning a top hat, ala Tom Petty. Another enjoyable evening of tunes from Nashville.