[19 May 2009]
With times this lean you need more bang for your buck and what better way to spend a fistful of dollars than on the Venus 3. Sharing the stage with pop-rock’s Maharishi, Robyn Hitchcock—the very same musical collaboration that spurred the magical Olé! Tarantula in 2006—each member of the trio brings a considerable C.V. to the Hitchcock camp. Bassist/guitarist Scott McCaughey has played with the Minus 5, the Baseball Project, and Young Fresh Fellows, percussionist Bill Rieflin currently plays with R.E.M and has hammered with Nine Inch Nails, while R.E.M guitarist Peter Buck, who rounds out the group, doesn’t really need an introduction.
Hitchcock, with a 30-plus year career spawning an infinite number of re-incarnations, fronted the Soft Boys, played with the Egyptians, and has alternated between solo-concept albums and collaborative recordings. The one constant has been his Mad Hatter-like affinity for titillating imagery and seductive vocals. Hitchcock is as comfortable cooing a feathery falsetto (as in tonight’s rendition of “Only The Stones Remain”, which he dedicates to 1988) as he is brandishing a spastic-rock epiphany.
Gallivanting around like a richly plumed Indian peafowl using its train to attract a harem of peahens, Hitchcock sported a black, floral-print shirt and purple trousers. Starting the set by introducing a “folk song from England” dedicated to the Obama family—“not the lyrics, just the feel”—he crooned quirky snippets like, “Said the courier to the corpse, I’ve got the hots for you, said the vicar to the waitress, best thing about you is your waist, I’ve got the hots for you…” A wound-up woman—with black-tee and raven hair – stepped to the stage whirling like a feverish go-go girl to the beat, gazing at the musicians on stage.
But she’s not the only fan who trolls for Hitchcock’s gaze. Others grab planes, trains, and automobiles to catch his famed act. One fugitive mom said that she left her “albatross husband” along with the kids and a sink full of dishes and drove in from suburban Munster (even if it meant parking in a really creepy neighborhood) just to see Hitchcock live. A married couple flew in from Minneapolis to catch the Chicago show before flying back to see his set in their hometown the following evening. Self-described as “Hitchcock groupies,” the husband described Hitchcock as a “really grand man.” They should know—this was their 16th time seeing him live.
It’s no wonder people go to great lengths to see Robyn Hitchcock in concert. Hitchcock’s lovely melodies—sitting tonight on top of tempo shifts courtesy of Bill Rieflin—flow like libations at your local brewery. Take “Saturday Groovers”, for example, a bouncy, heady stroll that would quench anybody’s thirst for pure pop. Thunderous rolls of rhythm paired with time-suspended fuzz bass embody “Let’s Feel The Beat”, while twelve-string ruminations by Buck and torrid ostinatos by McCaughey imbue “What You Is”.
Hitchcock gave a nostalgic nod to “I Often Dream of Trains”, by declaring, “rock ‘n’ roll began in the United States,” before cradling his cobalt blue electric guitar and eliciting a poignant solo while delivering this haunting rendition. He prefaced the ballad, “Falling” by saying, “if we remember things in reverse order, sometimes they’re fantastic.” Lush harmonies fleshed out the chorus, as the infectious guitar hooks pulsing between Buck and Hitchcock dominated. “Up To Our Nex”—recently seen in the film Rachel Getting Married—combined breathy vocals with verve. Hitchcock’s wistful wit continued, “Let us rock into the erotic psychosis ‘cause it’s a comfort zone,” he whispered before “Creeped Out, American Girl.”
But for those who have seen him 16 times before, what’s new about tonight? Hitchcock’s gratefulness that we have a new “prez,” a transcendental flow evidenced by Hitchcock’s pressed palms squeezed together as he utters, “Shakti om,” and Buck’s intermittent east-Indian guitar phrasings. There’s also the alchemy crystallizing between Hitchcock and the Venus 3, all smiling in absolute rhapsodic joy as they calculate their strategy between numbers, like the Chicago Bears huddled in the steamy outfield.
While there were no references to necrophiliacs (“My Wife And My Dead Wife”) or gender-bending (“Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl”) as in previous concerts, the three-plus hours of pure musical entertainment exceeded any recession special. If you missed the show, just hop on a plane and catch the next one. You won’t be alone.