Archive for The Soft Boys

Robyn Hitchcock Brought His Guitar, Sense Of Humor, And The Best Catalogue In Rock To His Two Nights At Jammin Java

Posted in Music with tags , , , on May 12, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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It is an article of faith in these here parts that the songwriter with the strongest collection of songs written over the final two decades of the 20th Century and the first two decades of this one is Robyn Hitchcock. For much of this Spring, Tulip Frenzy World Headquarters has rung with the chiming sounds of a two-hour long playlist of Hitchcock’s work going back to his time with The Soft Boys.  Our daily commute of late has passed far faster thanks to continuous playing of his most recent, eponymous album, his best in years.

Wednesday night at Jammin Java Hitchcock played a solo acoustic set featuring 20 of his own songs and a handful of covers.  Only one of his songs was off the new album, and just one more was chosen for our two-hour compendium of personal favorites.  Does this give you a sense of just how deep his oeuvre is? The show was, of course, brilliant.

Like Bob Dylan — his only threat in the Championship Round of the competition — Robyn Hitchcock’s songs are based on beautiful melodies, artful phrases, and an underlying sense of humor.  (“There’s a thin line between what you do and what you should/Every time I cross it I just feel insanely good.”) Both artists have surrounded themselves with great musicians, can easily shift between real rock’n’roll and quieter folk, write love songs with tenderness and irony, and are as much rock historians as they are musicians. (Though unlike Dylan, we can’t think of a Hitchcock song, even those that are mean, containing the least glimmer of misogyny.)

So why is Bob Dylan “Bob Dylan,” and Hitchcock playing solo before an audience of 200 or so at a small club in suburban D.C.? We have a theory, but first, more about Robyn Hitchcock, his hardest rocking, most complex, and best album of the past decade, and a bit more about that show Wednesday night.


Hitchcock makes his home these days in Nashville, and thank Heaven he does, because his neighbor, Brendan Benson, was inspired to produce his newest record, requesting that it sound like The Soft Boys.  Robyn Hitchcock, released in late April, does sound like The Soft Boys’ two ’70s records, as well as his first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role, which came out in ’81. Truth be told, it also sounds like the 19 studio albums he’s released since then.  That is the purest of compliments. Few are the artists who have changed so little over 40 years — and thank God for that.

To the uninitiated: if you want a good entry point to Hitchcock’s work, at age 63, his new album provides it. From the hard rocking opener, “I Want To Tell You About What I Want,” to the gorgeous closer, “Time Coast,” it touches every base.  When rock critters describe Hitchcock’s influences and antecedents, Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds are the first references, with those looking to score points throwing Captain Beefheart in — not because he sounds like Don Van Vliet (though they do each possess multi-octave voices), but because of his absurdist sense of humor.  On the new record, Hitchcock sounds like… Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds, which is to say, after 40 years of record making, he sounds like Robyn Hitchcock, an artist who should be in their ranks, but somehow isn’t, except in our house, and those of uplifting gormandizers.

On Wednesday night, Hitchcock dipped into his repertoire and sang in strong voice, the fingers of his left hand moving like a tarantula up and down the neck of his guitar, songs introduced with a stand-up comic’s storytelling magic.  It was one of those sets that remind us that live music can transport us from the tedium of the everyday into another, better world.

So back to the question of why isn’t this greatest songwriter of the past 40 years carried around in a sedan chair, his face adorning The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, dozens of bands referenced as Hitchcockesque? Other than the old standbys that life is unfair and there is no justice, we think there may be a reason, absurd though it may be.

Our theory is that, when the Soft Boys hit our shores in that second wave of British punk, and found common cause with the jangle of the dBs and other Big Star/Byrds and folk-infused bands like R.E.M., Hitchcock’s English eccentricities put him in a box.  A radio programmer might grok an incredible song like “Kingdom Of Love,” but with lyrics like these — “You’ve been laying eggs under my skin/Now they’re hatching out under my chin/Now there’s tiny insects showing through/And all these tiny insects look like you” — Hitchcock could be segregated into the Captain Beefheart box, chains wrapped around it, visible only via underwater moonlight, pushed away from the main currents of even “alternative” music.

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Over the ’80s and ’90s, Hitchcock released a powerful series of albums that occasionally broke through, with songs like “So You Think You’re In Love” getting radio play.  Hell, Jonathan Demme made a concert film and put him The Manchurian Candidate. By the 21st Century, he was putting out one amazing album after another — dip into Ole! Tarantula, or any of the Oslo albums, Goodnight Oslo or Tromso, Kaptein, and you will hear work deserving to be in the same conversation as Love & TheftModern Times, and Time Out Of Mind.  And yet there he was at Jammin Java, for financial reasons not even bringing the ace band of young Nashville tyros who played with him last week in L.A., stomping through a proper set of rockers culminating in the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.”

Robyn Hitchcock is a national treasure — and he’s ours now, fuck Britain.  His shows should be performed at the Verizon Center, or at least he should be able to tour, like his hero Bob Dylan, minor-league ballparks.  At Jammin Java Wednesday night, he began his two sets with Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet,” and concluded it with “Visions of Johanna.”  In addition to covers of songs by Nick Drake and The Doors, he played 20 originals spanning 40 years of our devoted fandom, 40 years of pleasure. His body of work is so rich he could play 19 songs not on our list of his greatest ones and the evening still was glorious. That he is hilarious and eccentric is his charm and his undoing.  No one and nothing, not even time and commercial neglect, can take away his greatness.

Robyn Hitchcock Offers Clues To His Ultimate Playlist (9:30 Club, April 27th)

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Over a span of many years — many, many years — we’ve made playlists from Robyn Hitchcock’s albums, vinyl to cassette tape, CDs to Mini Discs, digital files to iPods and iPads.  It’s hard to do a really comprehensive and good list because, Hell’s bells, he’s been at it so long, writing songs at such a consistently high level, that a really good, career-spanning playlist — starting with the Soft Boys in 1980, up to and including the excellent Love From London, which came out earlier this year — you either fill your hard drive with an impossibly long sequence of  his 500 songs, or you skip over whole decades (the ’90s weren’t particularly memorable), or you start taking a single song from an album in the ’80s, say Element of Light, and the next thing you know, you’ve included the whole thing, the whole album, defeating your curatorial purpose.

Last night Robyn Hitchcock played D.C.’s 9:30 Club with a band so good that Peter Buck played rhythm guitar — yeah, think of that, the multimillionaire legend from R.E.M. goes out on the road as Hitchcock’s sideman — and his set list was just that sort of perfect playlist that has eluded us.  When he strapped on the electric guitar, his long fingers languorously alighting lead notes even as he sang, of course he started with “Kingdom Of Love,” a song first heard when he and Kimberly Rew were giving Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd a run for their money as the best tandem guitar duo in that confused era between punk and post-punk.  He closed his set with “Goodnight Oslo,” (sung with some missed high notes, the quality of his voice necessitating the emollient of tea), and we’d be forgiven if we said, Wow, what a span of amazing songs, except “Goodnight Oslo,” which he loves so much he’s recorded it twice — once in English, once in Norwegian — was released first in 2009, and he’s put out three excellent albums since then!   Yeah, more than three decades on, Hitchcock’s fountain still bubbles with Byrdsy jangle and folk-rock craftsmanship.

To say he is still going strong understates.  To put the timeline in perspective against the quality of music produced, what Hitchcock is doing now would be the equivalent of, say, the Rolling Stones still releasing excellent new music in the late ’90s, right? 33 years on from that first one.  The only artist in rock’n’roll music we know who has had/is having such a late phase claim to greatness is Dylan, and unlike Dylan, Hitchcock still has his voice.  Even if last night some of those high notes were just out of reach.

We love Love From London, though when it first came out, we thought maybe Goodnight Oslo or 2006’s Ole! Tarantula were a bit better.  We’ve since reconsidered.  Last night, playing the wonderful “I Love You” and “Fix You,” Hitchcock reminded us just how great that album is.  He limited himself to two songs from the new album because, clearly, even he has trouble choosing the great songs to offer, and it’s a zero-sum game, if he’d taken too many songs from Love From London, he wouldn’t have been able to give us “Element of Light,” or maybe “Underground Sun.”  (On the latter, the band did something so charming… having forgotten the bridge, after they ended the song, they remembered what they’d left off, started up again, and played the bridge!)  He wouldn’t have given us “Madonna of the Wasps” or “Adventure Rocket Ship” or “N.Y. Doll.”

He came back with an encore consisting of, get this, “I’m Waiting For the Man,” followed by Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing,” followed by “She Said She Said” and “Eight Miles High.” Well, did we mention that Peter Buck was in his band.  Brilliant.  A complete gem of an encore package, missing only, like, “Parachute Woman” to have hit ’60s evocation nirvana.

And now, having heard the set last night, maybe we have our dream playlist, at once a concise distillation of Hitchcock’s greatness, and a reminder that it’s really just a taste of this most satisfying career.

For Robyn Hitchcock, London’s Calling With Love

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 6, 2013 by johnbuckley100

We assume that by the time a Swiss watchmaker is 60, he can do pretty much anything — make complicated watches with intricate gears, or whimsical bling, if that’s what he wants — but it all will tell perfect time.  So it is with Robyn Hitchcock, who started rock’n’roll life in the punk era, but was always too clever to be reduced to three-chord rock.  (To begin with, he’s always been too fine a guitarist, a man who could have worked sessions if he hadn’t the talent to have written 500 songs over the course of a long, glorious career.)  As a master of everything from jangling, Byrdsy folk-rock to the most intricate chamber pop, to hard-rocking three-minute entomological rom-coms, Hitchcock has always carried himself as a British eccentric, the Paul Smith of tasteful Indie rock.  But on Love From London, his 19th record — including his work with The Soft Boys?  dunno…– Hitchcock slips the non-formulaic formula that’s governed his incredible output since 2005, which includes four certifiably great albums, and shows he can still be frisky.  If we are to pay off the multiple analogies spraying everywhere in this lede paragraph, shall we consider him the Swiss watchmaker who mixes up colors like Paul Smith? Yes, let’s.

We thought 2006’s Ole! Tarantula was a great album, one of his best, but it just got better from there, as Goodnight Oslo, Propeller Time, and Tromso, Kaptein were marvels of mature folk-rock confections that still each had a kick, like Swiss chocolate with a jalapeno tang.  That he is held in such respect by his peers that guitarists like Peter Buck travel oceans just to back him up, for little pay but much satisfaction, shows the kind of artist we are talking about. On Love From London, Hitchcock’s added piano and organ to his basic band, which consists of standard guitar-bass-drums, but also cellos and the occasional horns.  On a song like “Stupefied,” it’s easy to imagine a surviving John Lennon invoking his Beatles past.  But like David Bowie, whose new album sends us back into the world he created, Hitchcock is enough of a master, with a long-enough track record, that all the references are to his massive body of great work.  For Hitchcock aficionados, the long string of Saturday morning rainy day albums that put a knowing smile on our faces continues.  May it do so for decades to come.

In a wonderful interview in Time, Hitchcock talks about how music no longer matters, at least not like it used to.  In the days when one sought out obscurities in records shops, the commodity value of music was so much greater than it is in an instantly downloadable world.  Robyn Hitchcock is the kind of artist we would have hitchhiked to the big city just to find the record bins containing his work.  Take advantage of our modern world and download Love From London today.

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