Friday, December 6, 2013

Concert Review: Robyn Hitchcock at the Varsity Theater

Robyn Hitchcock in front of the marquee at the Varsity Theater, September 8, 2013. (Photo by Mark Taylor.)

Robyn Hitchcock on stage at the Varsity Theater, September 8, 2013. (Photo by Pondie Taylor.)
In September, the night after I saw Tom Rush, I went to see Robyn Hitchcock at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. I’ve seen Robyn several times before, at the Varsity, at the Dakota, and on “Wits.” Like last year’s show at the Dakota, this was a solo show. Robyn put on a wonderful show, as always. But the real highlight for me was before the show. I was eating dinner at the Loring Pasta Bar with my wife and my Mom, just down the block from the Varsity. We were sitting outside, as it was a lovely evening. I looked up and who was walking down the street towards me? Robyn Hitchcock! I said hi to him, shook hands with him and told him we were about to see his concert. Robyn said that we had to make sure we saw Eugene Mirman, the comedian who was opening for him, because “Without Eugene the show won’t make sense.” We also ran into Robyn on our way from the restaurant to the Varsity, and I was standing next to Robyn as he took a picture of the Varsity’s marquee. “Not often you get to see your name up in lights” Robyn said to me. I stupidly didn’t think to get my picture taken with Robyn, unfortunately. But it was pretty cool to have a couple of moments with Robyn before the show.

The Varsity was a fantastic place to see Robyn. I hadn’t been in the Varsity since they remodeled it, and it’s better than ever. It was very comfortable; we had our own table, so it was like seeing Robyn at a jazz club. But honestly, this wasn’t my favorite Robyn show I’ve seen. I’m a pretty hardcore Robyn fan, but there were a lot of songs I didn’t recognize. I was like, “What album is this one from?” Of course, Robyn doesn’t have many “hits” like other artists do, so he has more freedom to dig deeply into his back catalogue. There were also too many songs that sounded too similar to each other, I needed a little more variety. I was also a little disappointed that Robyn didn’t play anything from this year’s “Love From London” album, as I think it’s a fantastic collection of songs. (I reviewed the album, in painstaking detail, here.) But that being said, there were many lovely moments, like “The Wreck of the Arthur Lee,” which is a great Hitchcock song. And Robyn did play “Museum of Sex,” which is one of my personal favorites of his. Honestly, I love the “Ole! Tarantula” album so much that I’d love to hear Robyn play all of those songs. Robyn also did a lovely version of the hypnotic “Queen Elvis,” which was a request from a very inebriated female fan. After “Queen Elvis” is when the songs started sounding too similar for me. I also got to hear Robyn sing “My Wife and My Dead Wife,” which I’ve never heard him sing before. In an interview with “Time” magazine from earlier this year, Robyn said: “I would love to never play ‘Balloon Man’ or ‘My Wife and My Dead Wife’ again.” Huh. Robyn closed his set with two great songs from “Ole! Tarantula”: “Adventure Rocket Ship” and “Ole! Tarantula.” As usual, Robyn’s guitar playing was excellent throughout the show, although he told fewer stories during the concert than he has in the past. For the encore, he sang three covers, my favorite being The Kinks’ “Fancy.” Robyn then closed with “I’m Only You,” complete with the amazing guitar playing that always highlights his live versions of this song. 

After Robyn was done, he and Eugene came back out and bantered for about 15-20 minutes, telling funny stories and making each other laugh. Robyn was very funny, as was Eugene, and Robyn brought back a story he had told at the “Wits” taping earlier this year about things invading from Canada. I’ve always thought that Robyn Hitchcock would make an excellent stand-up comic, and this encore was the closest he’ll probably come to that. It’s always fun to see Robyn, and it’s obvious that he likes the Twin Cities a lot, since he’s come here three times in the last 12 months. This show was a little odd because he didn’t play anything from “Love From London,” and there wasn’t even a merch table to buy any of his CD’s! He must really like it here. 

Set list:

The Abyss
I Got the Hots
The Wreck of the Arthur Lee
Museum of Sex
Queen Elvis
Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom
Wax Doll
Cynthia Mask
She Doesn’t Exist
Sometimes A Blonde
My Wife and My Dead Wife
Adventure Rocket Ship
Ole! Tarantula
Born In Time (Bob Dylan)
Tower Song (Townes Van Zandt)
Fancy (The Kinks)
I’m Only You
Robyn and Eugene talk


Uncle E said...

Wow, what an odd little playlist! As you know I am a huge fan of Love From London as well, and find it a little weird he didn't play one track, as I think many would translate well to the 'acoustic treatment'. Very cool you got to chat with the man, though, and any concert by this most underrated of artists is going to be a special affair! Nice write up!

Mark said...

Thanks E! Yes, it was an odd playlist. I was really surprised he didn't play anything from "Love From London." I agree with you, I think those tracks would definitely work well in acoustic arrangements.