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Live Review: Robyn Hitchcock @ The Hamilton Live — 4/19/24

Over two sets recently at The Hamilton Live, Robyn Hitchcock showed he is one of the true originals in music. The eccentric British singer-songwriter treated the audience to songs both beautiful and strange, accompanied by stage banter that was as surreal as it was entertaining.

Originally a folkie influenced by figures like Nick Drake, Hitchcock first recorded with the Soft Boys at the end of the ’70s and the beginning of ’80s. The Soft Boys went against the grain — at the time, punk was the dominant force in music — playing lyrically smart jangle pop. Though they didn’t meet with a lot of commercial success, they’d influence generations of alt-rockers from REM to the New Pornographers to Matthew Sweet and the Hold Steady.

After the Soft Boys broke up, Robyn quickly began his solo career in 1981 with Black Snake Diamond Role. He’s maintained a prolific output ever since, releasing nearly an album a year for more than 40 years, backed by various groups, including the Egyptians and the Venus 3.

At The Hamilton Live on April 19, Hitchcock began the first set with “Balloon Man.” Introducing the next song, “The Shuffle Man,” which appears on his most recent album (with vocals, that is; he released an instrumental guitar album, Life After Infinity, last year), Shufflemania, he told the audience, “This one’s in B. I don’t get many songs in B., And it is actually in E.” It was the first of many odd, even puzzling statements he would make over the course of the evening. He added, “Explaining it doesn’t make it make any more sense.”

Watch the official music video for “The Shuffle Man” by Robyn Hitchcock on YouTube:

Even with his prolific output, Robyn still has songs he hasn’t released, that live only in his vault. “No one’s ever heard this song,” he said of “Century.” “I’m imagining it was recorded by Manfred Mann doing a Bruce Springsteen song.” He also made the aside, “I can’t see you, but I imagine you’re as ancient as I am.” (Robyn is 71, which doesn’t seem so ancient, as he’s younger than both my parents.) Turning slightly, he said, “I’m going to set myself on a gently rotating course over this evening’s entertainment so I can eyeball all of of you.”

Earlier in the day, Hitchcock had invited fans to submit their requests for the evening on Twitter. “This is the first of the requests,” he said of “1974.” “I don’t know what key it’s in, but it’s in English.”

After “1974,” he played “Madonna of Wasps,” then said, “Let’s move into a hymn to pure being.” “Vibrating,” he explained, was written in New York. Addressing the sound guy, he said, “If you could make me sound profound as well, that would be good. Like I have some insight.” Joking aside, I suspect that, over his long life and extensive career, Robyn has gathered a lot of insight, he just doesn’t express in particularly concrete ways.

Like many of us, Hitchcock was deeply affected by the 2016 presidential election. (He lives in Nashville with his wife, fellow musician Emma Swift.) For several years, he told the audience, he didn’t write any songs. His creative juices were reignited by a trip to Mexico, on which he visited the temple of Quetzlcoatl, the Aztec serpent God, That visit inspired, reasonably enough, “The Feathery Serpent God.”

The titles of his next several songs demonstrate the range of his work: “I Saw Nick Drake,” “Alright, Yeah,” “Autumn Sunglasses,” “Queen of Eyes,” and “The Lizard.” After “The Lizard,” he said there was going to be an intermission between sets “so I can spend 17 minutes in my coffin.”

When he came back after the intermission, Robyn sat down at the piano and played “Flavor of Light,” followed by “The Man Who Invented Himself,” and “Somewhere Apart.” “Now for something more porcelain,” he said, switching to the guitar, and described “I Often Dream of Trains” as “an old English railway dining song.” “NY Doll,” he explained, is about the band’s bassist, the late Arthur Kane. A cover of  his “Listening to the Higsons,” he said, was on the posthumously released Sparklehorse album.

Watch Robyn Hitchcock play “NY Doll” live on the Henry Rollins Show via YouTube:

One sad moment came when Robyn mentioned that his label, Tiny Ghost Records, takes its name from his cat, Tiny, who he only had for six months before he sadly passed away. I feel Robyn here; as I write this review, I’m dogsitting for my sister, and I’m already getting emotional about this very good, sweet boy going home, even though I’ll get more visits with him in the future.

The show continued with “Up to Our Nex.” The title for “The Man Who Loves The Rain” came from a list of unused Raymond Chandler songs. Next up was “So You Think You’re In Love.” “I Wanna Destroy You,” a Soft Boys tune is “a protest song against human nature. It didn’t work.”

That ended the main set. For his encore, Robyn played “My Wife and My Dead Wife” and “One Long Pair of Eyes.” He told the audience he’d be happy to sign merch after the show, but demurred when it came to photographs, saying, “I can’t be the only one who doesn’t like how he looks in pictures.” When I left the venue, there was a long line of fans waiting to meet Robyn; he may not have the largest audience, but the audience he has is passionate and dedicated, and it probably includes some of your favorite musicians.

Here are some photos of Robyn Hitchcock performing at The Hamilton Live on April 19, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of James Todd Miller.