Shank Hall, Milwaukee WI
November 5, 2004
Motoring to Milwaukee to see Robyn Hitchcock is less of a haul than you would think at first. It's sorta like going to Czechoslovakia. Unless you once got your ass kicked in Czechoslovakia. And if you don't get any of that, don't worry about it.
Shank Hall seemed like an apt name for a venue in Wisconsin. Fortunately, it turned out be a nice room for a show. It was as intimate as a place like the Double Door, but as nicely appointed in terms of tables and seating as the Park West or the main floor at the Old Town Folk School. Most important, the room had decent acoustics and the services of a decent engineer for the mix.
Robyn, accompanied only by his guitar, seemed as much or more on his game than I have seen him in several years -- outside of his shows with the Soft Boys. Of course, his solo gigs skew the song selection to material that works in that context. Nevertheless, Robyn opened with a slow, deliberately picked version of "Raymond Chandler Evening" (originally recorded with the Egyptians) that perfectly fit the early November chill.
Those who have not seen Robyn live should know that his monologues and other stage patter between songs is every bit as psychedelic as his musical catalog. Playing just a few days after the election, it should surprise no one that Robyn's comments were frequently political. However, Robyn's version of political can be entertaining to both sides of the aisle.
For example, Robyn introduced the second song of the evening by noting that the last time he played Milwaukee, Bill Clinton was President, declaring, "Now there was a man who knew how to have fun." Robyn noted that he and President Clinton had the same sort of complexion... and the same appetites. As the crowd laughed, Robyn unwound the loping guitar riff to the Soft Boys' "I Got The Hots For You." Later, in seeking to cheer those disappointed by the election, Robyn discussed the fears of their opponents, noting that Karl Rove is desperately afraid of emperor pengins and Donald Rumsfeld has a phobia about bread, with a description of how his aides will surround Rummy with bowls of olives and cheese platters to make him seem normal in photographs.
Of course, it would no be a proper Hitchcock gig without some mention of cheese. Robyn returned to it in a monologue about his and his girlfriend's struggle against cheese addiction. In what seemed to be an effort to have the crowd "scared straight," Robyn recounted the horror of waking to find ones eyes coated with a viscous film of runny cheese that made it impossible to drive a car or engage in social interactions, spending yourtime at parties feeling along the walls and groping for more cheese. This was the introduction to "The Cheese Alarm."
Much of the show was a bit more serious, at least within the Hitchcock framework, including "Serpent At The Gate of Wisdom," "Queen Elvis," "You and Oblivion" and several numbers from his most recent discs, Luxor and Spooked (the latter being a folkish collaboration with Gillian Welch and Mark Edwards). Even "Balloon Man" played a bit more seriously, as the stripped down version allowed more focus on the actual subject of the song (English stockbrokers and investment bankers). But Robyn judiciously served up enough change up pitches ("Only the Stones Remain" and the classic "I Often Dream of Trains") to keep the pace from dragging.
The biggest surprise of the evening was saved for the encore, which Robyn simply announced, rather than going through the motions of walking off stage. After a couple of songs, Robyn then peeled the microphone from hs acoustic guitar and brought it with him as he stepped into the crowd and performed from the aisles.
And what did he perform? A sing-along medley of George McRae's "Rock Your Baby" and Dr. Hook's "When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman!" Of all the bands and musicians I've seen, I've never seen Westerbergian 70s homage from Robyn Hitchcock. Then again, the "Mats were known to cover "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus," so there was an rough symmetry to it... and hilarious in any event.Added:
Monday, November 08, 2004Reviewer: KarlScore: hits: