I'm getting better at not freaking out over show times, but this gig--the last evening of Robyn Hitchcock's three-night stand in the Little Room at Largo--required more precision than your average club date, as it involved three flights (one of which was changed specifically to accommodate this show), two Los Angeles-area airports, the freaking 405, dozens of text messages, and far too many red lights on La Cienega. Still, we made it to the Little Room with minutes to spare and prime seats for what turned out to be a grand kickoff to a fantastic weekend.
Robyn Hitchock, the Little Room at Largo, March 31, 2011: Robyn opened the gig in troubador style, strumming on the guitar and walking toward the stage while playing "Queen Elvis." Soon after, Bill Rieflin and Sean Nelson joined him on percussion (actually, a Harp beer case) and backing vocals, respectively. Robyn made one more trip to the back bar to recruit his final player: Jon Brion on piano. This casual intimacy carried over for the rest of the show; Robyn didn't even sing into the microphone for most of the performance.
For the full setlist, check out my friend's new blog, but even without the official rundown, I won't forget the highlights very soon. As the guy sitting next to me--miles more conversant with Robyn's catalog and history than myself--remarked, it was practically a greatest hits set, as Robyn and the gang hit such classics as "Balloon Man" and "My Wife and My Dead Wife," as well as some of Robyn's more current material and rarities.
On the covers front, they went for Simon & Garfunkel ("The Only Living Boy in New York") and David Bowie ("Soul Love"), but c'mon, the Roxy Music tunes made the night for me. I was somewhat prepared for "The Main Thing," which I'd first heard back in September, but "Oh Yeah" seguing into "Dear Prudence"--break out the smelling salts! The fanboy next to me reported reading of Robyn's admiration of Bryan Ferry, but the songs were all the evidence I needed.
In between, we got lots of stream-of-consciousness Robyn banter, including a long meditation on the Queen of England, glue, and marmite; a lengthy retelling of the Dirty Harry movies; and a couple of spontaneous, free-form compositions. One of the last works, something about Lorenzo, involved Robyn helming the tune by himself onstage, while his collaborators lined the bar. They were hardly off the hook, however; instead, they were conscripted to add backing vocals/call and response. They started out echoing the last words of each line, but eventually branched off with their own impromptu word association. Wow, that may be the most boring description of an incredibly entertaining exchange I've ever written, but it just goes to show you--you really need to be there.
Robyn was in fine form all night, but his band met him step for step. Sean's harmonies were smooth and sweet, and despite his initial reticence, Jon delivered as always, even when Robyn requested a mandolin or saxophone solo--on the piano--of him. Believe it or not, the mandolin solo came close to re-creating the sounds of the stringed instrument. However, the MVP of the night was Bill Rieflin; not only did he coax a whole range of sounds from his decidedly lo-fi beer case, he added charming harmonies too. It's hard to imagine a better supporting cast.
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