Robyn Hitchcock (Saturday, November 6th, 2004, Schuba’s, Chicago)
By David de Young
Schuba’s is a small giant of a venue. At a mere 160 capacity according to the Fire Marshall, their calendar still boasts acts like Hitchcock, Bob Schneider, American Music Club, Will Johnson, John Doe and Dogs Die in Hot Cars (and that’s just November’s calendar), bands which in the Twin Cities would play much larger venues like the 400 Bar, First Avenue or the Fine Line. At times during the show, Schuba’s felt as much like an old English dining hall as much as a music venue in a major US City.
Saturday’s show, sponsored by WXRT, had sold out almost immediately. The opener this particular night was Mr. Steve Frisbee. Initially, Frisbee seemed genuine enough, almost like a younger version of Hitchcock himself, which might explain his appearance on this bill. Though his songwriting didn’t hit the mark with me (a little too far to the college bar pop side of the spectrum for my tastes), he held his own as opener and admirably engaged the audience in a sing-a-long and many hoots and hollers were offered up when he closed his set with a cover of John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son.”
One reason I made the trek to see Hitchcock for the 3rd time in one week was that he’s been putting on a different show each night of this tour. Saturday night he had passed out 3x5 cards for audience requests. He started out by reading one off that apparently said “Organ Donor,” not a song of his. “It’ll be a hit,” someone hollered out. “Not if I write it,” Hitchcock dryly replied.
He opened instead with a cover of Dylan’s eerie “Visions of Joanna,” and when the song ended I noted that 150+ Chicagoans are capable generating appreciation at a volume that takes about twice that number of Minnesotans.
Hitchcock introduced his second song, “The Devil’s Coachman,” saying, “I followed that up with this a mere 22 years later.”
He dedicated “Chinese Bones,” to his girlfriend Michelle, saying it was also one of her favorites. He tacked on “Ohio” to then end of the “Something Shakespeare never said was ‘you’ve got to be kidding’” line.
Hitchcock indicated that when he first wrote “The Sleeping Knights of Jesus” the idea of the fundamentalist right running this country was “just an idea.” He reassured us that this song was never meant to be a personal assault on Jesus (whom he called “a Jewish mystic with a messiah complex.”) He clarified that by saying, “fundamentalism is to Jesus what Mark David Chapman was to John Lennon.” You see why you’ve got to go to every show?
The Soft Boys voyeuristic “Tonight” was next, followed by “Raining Twilight Coast” with the sigh-eliciting “just one thing baby, you forgot my heart” break in the middle, which still moved me despite an interruption of the song when Hitchcock had to play guitar one-handed while tearing off a drink ticket with his teeth to pay for a glass of wine.
“Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)” went off pretty well solo, and I think it was “1974” from A Star For Bram that got introduced as a song again about times when nothing much seemed to happen. Or was it “Winchester?” My notes got a bit muddled mid-set.
I do know that it was at this point that Robyn requested that people stop taking flash photos, saying it results in shitty photos and is also disruptive. (It wasn’t me. Not knowing Schuba’s camera policy I’d left mine back at the house.)
Hitchcock raised his glass of wine and said “here’s to 4 years and two months.” ‘Nuff said. A request for “Rock and Roll Toilet” by the exuberant fan standing next to me was not honored.
Instead, next up was a sweet version of the sun-worship ballad “Heliotrope” followed by Hitchcockian banter about rodents while he was tuning his guitar and trying to resolve a capo problem. “I bet Joean Baez doesn’t have this problem,” he said, which led to into a discussion of how Dylan and Baez both got their start before acoustic guitar pickups were even invented. He said he wasn’t using a pickup either; he was using a lapel mike loaned to him by Senator Edward Kennedy.
Next up was “Television,” Spooked’s opening song.
Hitchcock was surprised to learn while in Minnesota a few days before that Minnesota is considered the gopher state. He said he thought it was the Loon state (and I hope I didn’t have anything to do with that.) England, he joked, is now the 51st state.
He did a godfather impression and dedicated the next song to (W)XRT. The song was the slide guitarish “Gonna Live In the Trees.”
Next up was “Sometimes a Blonde,” (another of the songs from the new album that takes a while to sink in) after which Hitchcock announced he would just carry on until he had to stop “instead of going through the encore ritual.”
He switched to electric guitar, heavy on the delay. First up in the electric set was “Autumn is Your Last Chance,” the song with the searing close “you’re not there and I don’t care and you’re not there” ending.” It was a little off tempo as the delay wasn’t delaying in exactly the tempo that fit the song.
“From the other end of the spectrum,” he said, “someone requested this one.” It was “Never Stop Bleeding” from Element of Light.
Hitchcock announced two more songs. He said “Give Me a Spanner, Ralph ” was “the first song I managed to write by myself.” When finished, he remarked that “I never dreamed 31 years ago that I’d be playing that to a room of people in Chicago that would actually be pleased to hear it.”
He dedicated the final song, “I Feel Beautiful” to the people who had told him they’d had it played at their wedding. As usual, he stayed long after playing talking to fans, drinking wine and signing autographs.
1. Visions of Joanna (Dylan)