This gig was kind of the bonus of the weekend, but it turned out to be a bonus-plus. Not only would I get to see Robyn Hitchcock at the fabled McCabe's Guitar Shop (all the way on the west side!), but the second set would be all covers. Funny thing is I didn't even know the shows had an agenda -- I was happy enough seeing a Robyn one-off.
Robyn Hitchcock, McCabe's Guitar Shop, June 20, 2014: Here's a fun exercise: Try to picture everyone at a Robyn Hitchcock gig as their younger New Wave selves. Some will be easier than others -- either due to their bone structure, their genetic disposition, or the fact they haven't changed their hairstyle or their fashion philosophy in decades. To be fair, I'll play too. Imagine an exceedingly nerdy, bookish, and math-oriented girl with plain hair and not good eyebrows, but with the suburban girl designer-label wardrobe, and you got me all figured out.
As this was my first trip to McCabe's, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard all the stories about the size of the room and its day-to-day function as a working guitar shop, and in those respects, McCabe's didn't disappoint. As a non-musician, I can't guess at the value or desirability of the instruments hanging on the walls, but there sure were a lot of them, in pristine condition. I also liked what surely must've been a well-trodden line warning us in case of emergency, please wait until the staff removes the guitars first. You know they weren't lying.
Robyn wore a polka dot shirt and sunglasses (and pants and shoes) when he first arrived onstage, and the sunglasses stayed on for several songs, accompanied by an explanation no one knew whether to take seriously. As previously stated, the set was devoted to covers, and only now looking at a blog post on another site do I see that he has a collection of covers coming out this fall, but none of the songs on the record surfaced at this show.
Still, it was probably no surprise that the opener was Bob Dylan's "I'm Not There." He then proceeded through a bunch of names you'd probably expect: Ray Davies, the Doors (since we were in Los Angeles), Arthur Lee, and David Bowie, off the top of my head. Robyn's Ray Davies recollection had to do with the sorry state of Ray's shoes. Regarding Bowie, Robyn's run-up to the song involved a discussion of the sax solo, and he cited "Soul Love" as the best use of it before performing the tune itself, including humming the sax portion. I think a Syd Barrett song might've been the second track, but Robyn didn't bother to make a formal introduction -- perhaps it was already obvious to everyone else in the room.
As has been made evidently clear in this blog, I'm well acquainted with certain musical eras, not so much with others, and Robyn hit two songs residing squarely in my wheelhouse. The first was Roxy Music's "Oh Yeah," and what do you know? I actually heard him do this song a few years ago. Though I never made the connection before, it now seems inarguable that Roxy Music must've been a staple for Robyn in his formative years. The song was a surprise and a joy, and I sang along to every word. Sigh.
Another tune might as well have been served up on a silver platter, and Robyn of course had a story for it too, dating back to its origins as a B-side that apparently was quite popular in Maryland. Also, Robyn had received an email from the songwriter the week before, and they remain good friends. The song was "Ghost in You," which was part of my teenage canon, and I may have applauded too enthusiastically in response. This track is, in fact, on the forthcoming record, so we'll all be able to hear it at our convenience soon.
Robyn returned to Dylan for the main set closer, with one of his trademark covers, "Visions of Johanna." I still have no idea how he remembers all the words to that song. I mean, how many verses are in there? Though I'm not much of a Dylan person, I would easily put Robyn's version as one of my favorite Dylan covers in circulation.
If I had one tiny note about Robyn's song selection, I would've liked to hear him cover a song written by a woman, especially since I know he can do it. But for his final song, he went with his own track written for Emmylou Harris, and I believe it will be on the next record.
Coming into the show, I thought maybe we'd get a special guest -- maybe not that special guest, but perhaps the other one? Or any of a dozen others? Almost immediately, it became clear that this was a pipe dream, but Robyn didn't need any of them. He did quite beautifully by himself, accompanied by his inspirations through the years.
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