Robyn Hitchcock and friends — 3/31/11, Los Angeles, CA (The Little Room at Largo at the Coronet)
It’s one thing when you’re on the road to stay up a little later and punch out a quick review and setlist after getting back from a show. But when you’re back at home and have life stuff to deal with (not to mention shows on your DVR to catch up on), it can be a little more challenging to sit down and write. At least for me.
Another thing is that I feel pretty comfortable writing about Wilco or Jeff Tweedy shows, so it’s no sweat to put some quick thoughts down. Since I’ve seen more than my fair share of their performances over the years, I’m more confident about what nuances to look for, what’s to be expected and what might be a little more out of the ordinary. I suppose this is another reason why I’ve sometimes shied away from posting about a lot of other shows I’ve attended: I worry that I won’t be offering much in the way of insight or even basic reportage. But ultimately, if this blog is to endure, I guess that’s just something I need to get over.
Lest I get much further behind in my recapping, then, I should try to at least say a few words about the Robyn Hitchcock show I caught in Los Angeles a week ago. I should preface this by saying I’m far from the world’s most knowledgeable Hitchcock fan, so go easy on me. The funny thing is I had just seen Robyn in Chicago about two weeks prior on his tour with Joe Boyd, so it felt a little odd to be seeing him play again in a different city under a completely different set of circumstances. But when a friend suggested we might be able to make it to his set at Largo just a couple of hours after my flight landed, how could I refuse?
Largo, of course, is an LA institution, but on this night Robyn (and some friends) were playing in the venue’s so-called “Little Room,” which is a wonderfully intimate space that probably has room for about 75 people, give or take. If you ever get a chance to see a performance there, do yourself a favor. Robyn has some pretty famous musical friends, so it’s always interesting just to see who will turn out on any given night. For this final show of a three-night run in the Little Room, he was joined by Jon Brion on piano, R.E.M. and Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin on percussion (primarily, and amazingly, an empty Harp Lager cardboard box with brushes) and Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson on background vocals.
It was a performance, I think, that could only have taken place in The Little Room, with its tiny, foot-high stage and relaxed atmosphere. Well, at least it certainly would have felt different anywhere else. Robyn strummed his acoustic guitar and sang, sometimes into the lone microphone on stage but mostly not, and called out chord changes or keys of songs. When he decided what song they would play next, he often used initials (as in S.A.B., for Sometimes A Blonde) to inform the other players. There was a setlist, though who knows how closely it was adhered to.
Of course, what would a Robyn show be without a little eccentricity? So we got some banter about marmite; a long introduction to the song “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs,” that began with, “Many people have suggested reasons for a second Dirty Harry movie…” (which I guess isn’t that weird, unless you don’t know the song is about—not kidding—the Dirty Harry sequel, “Magnum Force.”); and a couple of improvised songs in the encore, including one I’m calling “Lorenzo and His Mother,” in which Robyn harmonized from the stage with the rest of the band in the back of the room. (You probably had to be there.)
Anyway, all of it made for a quite an enjoyable evening. And I haven’t even mentioned the covers Robyn and friends performed. I think I was most pleasantly surprised to hear “The Only Living Boy In New York” because I love that song and because I wouldn’t have necessarily considered it to be up the alley of this particularly group of musicians. More along the lines of what I would have expected were the main set-closing “Oh Yeah” (into “Dear Prudence”) and “Soul Love.” The latter was a particularly sublime version of the Bowie tune from Ziggy Stardust, and it made you feel lucky yet again to be among the relative handful of people watching this performance transpire.
Here was the complete setlist, as played:
Sometimes A Blonde
(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs
The Only Living Boy In New York [Simon and Garfunkel]
When I Was Dead
The Main Thing [Roxy Music]
My Wife And My Dead Wife
Uncorrected Personality Traits
Oh Yeah [Roxy Music]>
Dear Prudence [The Beatles]
Soul Love [David Bowie]
—”Lorenzo And His Mother” (impromptu song)—
—”Birth of Random Baby Numbers” (impromptu song)—
*Opening act: none