Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Robyn Hitchcock @ Open Arts Theater - Bordentown, NJ 03/01/14

I know that I have mentioned this before, but I find that a good portion of the concerts that I attend these days is an attempt to see some of my teenage idols before those chances no longer exist.  This concert was no different.

When Randy from the Man Cave told me that he was able to land Robyn Hitchcock for a show at the intimate Open Arts Theater I was shocked.  For one, that is a huge catch.  Secondly, I didn't think that Robyn toured the states all that often.  There was no way that I was going to miss this one.  Ticket Purchased and I set!!!

For many, their introduction to Robyn Hitchcock was the song 'Balloon Man' from the 1988 release Globe of Frogs with The Egyptians.

It captures his quirkiness and pure pop sensibilities in three and a half minutes of perfection.  I remember not being able to get enough of this song.  It was in the regular rotation on MTV's 120 minutes.  I may even have the video on VHS tape somewhere.

His next release with the Egyptians, Queen Elvis, he had minor Alternative Radio airplay with 'Madonna of the Wasps'.

After this, you didn't hear much else.  Many forgot about Robyn Hitchcock...and THAT is a shame.  These two song only scratch the surface of the man.  Robyn Hitchcock is a very prolific songwriter that is still recording today.  Over his 35 year career he has 19 studio albums (some including the backing bands The Egyptians and Venus 3), 9 more compilation albums of rarities and demos, 10 live albums, at least 4 best of compilations, and that does not even include the 3 studio albums with the post-punk, neo-psychedelia band The Soft Boys.  He is also very respected in the industry boasting well known admirers such as Amanda Palmer.

Hitchcock was one of the founding members and lead singer of The Soft Boys who had albums in the late 70's.  In my opinion, it is a great example of power pop at its best.  Blending elements of the Byrds, Bob Dylan and Syd Barrett.  My favorite song from them can be found as a bonus track to their second album, Underwater Moonlight, from 1980.  It is called 'Only The Stones Remain'.

After their break up Robyn would go solo and other members would go on to other bands such as Squeeze and Katrina and the Waves.

Robyn's power/pop/folk blend is very much in the same vane as Nick Lowe.  But lyrically he tells Dylanesque stories in abstract, whimsial ways that only he can do.  He is a true artist in this sense.  He writes short stories, he paints, he challenges you ways or looking at things.  During one of his many entertaining monologues with the audience he mentioned that if one person has a different opinion from the masses which one is actually right?  Many times the masses go after the corrupted because the corrupted are correct.  He sees through a different window and he asks you to do the same.  His songs are a journey.  Some times tongue in cheek, like 'My Wife and Dead Wife'.  Other times they are more direct like 'NY Doll'.  Either way he invites you along for the ride.

The day of the show he was doing an in-store appearance at The Man Cave.  Excited, like I always get, I showed up way to early, lol.  This gave me some time to shop and hang with Randy which is always a treat. Randy has said the Robyn had just arrived and went out to get a bite to eat.  He was doing this entire tour by train. Just he and his wife (I think it was his wife), and his guitar.  This, I assumed, would mean an accoustic performance (Yay!) and also no T-Shirts for sale (Boo!).

It became pretty evident pretty fast that I was not the only one who was excited to see Mr. Hitchcock.  The store was filling up pretty quickly.  To the point where there was little room to stand.  It gave me a great opportunity to see friends and also eavesdrop on conversations.  One gentlemen came in and asked if Robyn Hitchcock was really coming into the store.  When told yes he was shocked.  He then said that he first saw him live a few years back in London and that he realized at that point this was the music he wanted to listen to for the rest of his life.  That is the effect that Robyn Hitchcock's music has on people.  He was shocked that he was actually going to meet him, let alone in a place like Bordentown, NJ.

When Robyn arrived he went into the back rook to get ready.  Get ready?  We were in for a treat.  Robyn was going to do an in-store performance!!!  He came out and treated us with three songs with nothing more than a guitar and a harmonica.  The songs included 'Mr. Tambourine Man' and Roxy Music's 'More Than This'.

He announced after one of the songs that his guitar had suffered a concussion and asked if anyone new of a guitar Dr. that he could see before the show.  He was engaging and entertaining...and tall!  Like 6'3" or 6'4"  After the performance he announced we would sign anything we wanted, he would even grant three wishes, but at his request he did not want to take photos with people.  Fair enough.

Being in the back for the performance meant I would be in the front for the signing!  This would allow me to get to the venue first, and way too early, as well.  He signed my articles and was very much surprised that I had a copy of A Star for Bram (which was purchased in the Man Cave).  He signed the CD cover with two different color inks for effect.  I snapped one photo on the way out and headed over to the venue.

The doors to the show opened at 7:30 with the opening band, the Grip Weeds, going on a 8:00. I found myself standing in line out in the cold at 6:45.  I was determined to get a great seat.  It was cold but the conversation was great.  Behind me in line was a guy who had traveled down from Connecticut just for the show.  After some coaxing he shared that he worked for the band Wilco recording their live shows so that they could make them available online.  We had great discussions on Robyn Hitchcock, Live Bands, and Philadelphia music venues.  He had said he just heard Robyn Hitchcock for the first time a few years back out in California and was shocked he hadn't heard him before.  He was enjoying the great discovery of a new, old band...which is something so precious when it happens.  Even better when the artist still tours.  He was travelling to see many of his shows in the Northeast while Robyn was still here.  This was the second to last show on the tour.  There is one more in Philadelphia, which may be cancelled due to snow.

The doors opened and I managed to get a seat front row center.  This is a small venue and I was exceited to be seated so close.

The opening act was New Jersey's own Grip Weeds.  Although I had not heard of them before they have been around since 1988.  They're Power Pop, Psychedelic/Garage rock would be the perfect compliment to Mr. Hitchcock.  They were going to perform an acoustic set as well.  When I took a look at the set list on the floor I was shocked to see we would be treated with a long set also.

The Grip weeds joked that they had been described as a perfect blend of melodies and power but tonight they were only bringing the melody.

Their music is heavily influenced by the likes of The Yardbirds, The Birds, and, as they shared during their set, The Everly Brothers.  They were good.  Really good.  I was glad to have been turned on to them. They played 12 great songs and 1 encore track.  It was a great start to a perfect evening.

It was time for Robyn.  It was just him and his guitar.  When he came out he had trouble plugging his guitar in.  He joked that Insertion was 9/10's of the problem for most men.

He started off strong with 'The Abyss' and 'Mexican God'.  Robyn was sounding wonderful.  Just as he had during the in-store.  It got more exciting though when he put on the harmonica to play 'Only The Stones Remain' by the Soft Boys.  One of my favorites.

After the song he turned to the crowd and asked if anyone wanted his harmonica.  Shocked, I raised my hand.  He walked off of the stage and placed it in my hand.  He gave me a smile and told me to enjoy it.  WOW!  Was this really happening?  I was waiting for a punchline and it never came.  Just a true, nice gesture.

After that Robyn delved into his catalog.  One of the best parts of the show was Robyn's interaction with the crowd.  He told stories.  He gave us insight to how his mind works.  He made us laugh and he made us think.  He shared with us how he had written 'Lizard' about being bested by Jim Morrison and that he was inspired to write 'NY Doll' after watching the documentary about Arthur Kane of the same name.  He joked that most art was created by people that were dead and that is probably fitting so that they are not around when the missile strikes.

He had many great interludes including the likening of switching from a song of F Sharp like 'Lysander' to a song in G like 'I Often Dream of Trains' was like feeding a cat a can of super hybrid airline tuna that morphed into dead ancestors ashes in a bathtub.  You had to be  The audience was in stitches and eating our of his had.  It was the music that stole the spotlight as he strongly ended up his career spanning set with 'My Wife and My Dead Wife', 'Be Still', and 'Ole! Tarantula'.

After a long standing ovation he game back out for an encore.  Instead of plugging in he told the sound guy he was winging it and headed out into the crowd to play songs from his record collection.

As he walked through the crowd we were treated with 'Visions of Johanna' by Dylan and the Syd Barrett penned David Bowie tune Gigolo Aunt.  He did his inspirations proud.  He then asked the Grip Weeds to come out and join him joking that the next song was a Beach Boys classic before playing 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' by the Beatles.

He asked the Grip Weeds to join him on stage to help harmonize the last song of the night, 'Listening to the Higson's' which is Robyn Hitchcock penned.

It was the perfect end to the perfect evening.  It was a blend of something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.  On the way out I asked the man who I was talking to in the parking lot how this performance ranked with the others.  He stopped and thought for a second and said, "They are all good."

As I drove home it all seemed surreal.  Especially knowing this was in a place in my own backyard such as Bordentown.  I saw a great show.  Met a great musician,  got some incredible souvenirs, and got turned on to some great new music.  I was so excited that I had to tell someone that would appreciate it even though it was 11:30 at night.  So I did what anyone in that situation would do.  I tweeted Amanda Palmer.  This was her response.

She's right.  He is a God.  Do yourself a favor and discover Robyn Hitchcock.  Start here but be sure to dive deeper into his collection.  You wont be sorry.

And don't just take my word on how good the show was.  Go here to listen to it yourself.  Courtesy of the South Jersey Taper.


See you at the next show!



  1. I will go and listen to some of Robyn's songs tonight but right now, sitting in my son's gastroenterologist's office, all I can think of is that you got a tweet from Amanda Palmer. Amanda Fucking Palmer. I dislike you immensely right now.

    1. She actually re-tweeted my tweet to her.

      Did I mention that I am also Twitter friends with Chuck D from Public Enemy and Peter, Bjorn, and John?

  2. Great write up. I dislike you too, but you already knew that.

    1. many possibilities of people that dislike me...are you A.C. Newman?


Popular Posts