Saturday, March 28, 2009
A silver-coifed Robyn Hitchcock begins tonight’s trip through his back catalogue with a transfixing solo take on the funny and touching I Often Dream Of Trains. Soon enough the shaggy trio of Peter Buck (REM), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5) and Bill Rieflin (REM and Ministry) join for the scintillating Vibrating. Once Buck’s pedals are behaving (a malfunctioning jack causes a brief but noisy delay during which a perfectly timed heckle of ‘sack the REM dude!’ prompts Buck to instantly retort ‘I’m not getting paid for this’), a spellbinding melange of Barrett, Bob and Byrds fills the room. Over Clem Burke-style beats, Buck’s chiming chords mesh with Hitchcock’s jagged slashes and dazzling vocal prowess to create a satisfying whole. Despite a low turnout leading to the room-halving red curtain being drawn – always a little dampener – it’s exciting stuff.
“If this next song had a colour…it would be…invisible,” Hitchcock deadpans by way of an introduction to the brittle and bursting What You Is. “This next song has a silent introduction. No one knows who counts it in, but rest assured, it will appear,” precedes the excellent Saturday Groovers. There are no duds in this set. Hitchcock has over 30 years of critical smashes to draw from, his public profile seemingly at the mercy of Jonathan Demme and successful musicians. This sort of injustice barely registers tonight as he proves he is the master of the smart lyric, divine melody and surrealistic banter. “A lot of the songs we’ve played tonight are about Brian Epstein. This one is no acception…not exception…acception.”
Up To Our Nex (from Demme’s Rachel Getting Married) is gently incendiary and Kingdom of Love from the Hitchcock-penned Soft Boys’ classic Underwater Moonlight a glistening highlight. There is a lot of love in the room for Hitchcock and co tonight, but there is no need to rely on it. Many who’ve seen him on previous visits agree he seems tired (the band, all over 50, didn’t start till 11, perhaps a late night for them?) and the setlist varied little from the previous night’s show in Sydney, but there were no complaints. “People get what they deserve / Time is round, space is curved / Honey have you got the nerve / To be Queen Elvis,” he broods through a faultless encore. “This is music from a time before your mother was conceived, when men smoked pipes, before women had orgasms,” he says. “Nevertheless, it’s OK.” It is.