Robyn Hitchcock... Gigography

The Soft Boys
Concert appearance: Mon., 28 Oct. 2002

The Double Door
Chicago, Illinois US

Set list:

I Love Lucy
Pulse of My Heart
Kingdom of Love
Queen of Eyes
Mr. Kennedy
Unprotected Love
Hear My Brane
Vegetable Man (Syd Barrett)
Bells of Rhymney (Pete Seeger/Idris Davies)
La Cherite
(I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp "Seven Winged Bat" version
Underwater Moonlight
Encore: Narcissus
Encore: Rock 'n' Roll Toilet
Encore: I Wanna Destroy You
Encore: Insanely Jealous
Encore: Lions and Tigers
Encore: Where are the Prawns?
Encore: Man With the Lightbulb Head

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From Mike W.:
Through the remnants of my head cold I can still hear Kim's guitar blazing through my head today.

The Double Door is what Robyn called a 'pyschedelic pub for a psychelic pub rock band.' Small, dark, a few tables and a long bar on one side. Matthew roving about in the main room with a beer before the show, chatting with Nuppy and being nice enough to sign my copy of NDL. Ryan in the merch booth gave me the line of the night, for when he asked if this was my first show on the tour and I explained the shows were too close together and too far apart to trek for he simply replied 'tell me about it.' ... picked up Side 3 for $10 and moved to the front. The real front, like I spent the night resting my arms on Kimberley's monitor.

Room to stand and a smallish stage at one end. Light crowd early for 'The Lonesome Organist' who opened, basically a one man band on vocals, organ, mouth organ, drums, harmonica, xylophone, guitar, foot bells, tap shoes, and steel drum. At least three of these were in constant use at any given time. Insane, really. He mentioned that he had met RH in England and that "he was a kind drunk" or "he was kind to a drunk" not sure which, but it got a laugh. Opinions on his performance ranged from the curious to the incredulous, but it certainly kept your attention. To me sounded like exactly what the White Stripes would be if the heavily distorted guitar was removed for a heavily distorted organ instead.

The boys came on just past 8:30 with "I Love Lucy," very tight and spot on from the get-go especially Kim, who looks happy to be there, is loud and is energized. Matthew on the other side can be heard this time around which is a very pleasant change. Morris had been sporting a flash blue blazer pre-show but has toned down for the set, leaving the sunglasses on. His timing is impeccable. Robyn in a white polka-dot-on-black shirt and struggling with his voice early as they punch into "Pulse" and then an especially tight "Kingdom of Love." RH's guitar down in the mix a bit which is fine with me as Kim is clearly on and really enjoying himself. The perfunctory "QOE" then "Mr. Kennedy" where they both really stretch out on the jam - and the results are spectacular. I don't think I've ever really seen RH enjoy playing guitar like this live, he's mugging with Kim and trying to read where he's going as they intertwine looping lines up and down the fretboard.

The place is really warming up, crowd well filled in and appreciative. I really like the upbeat "Unprotected Love" now that I've heard it live, much better than on the album. RH vocals keep creeping up in the mix and Kim's guitar follows. They lurch into "Hear My Brane" which is explained to be 'an old Soft Boys tune, before even Underwater Moonlight.' I was thinking that if they played this it would be my highlight for the night, but RH follows with the only rant of the evening - a missive about fishing for pumpkins in a lake at sunset - with the beginnings of "Vegetable Man." And they crush it, right on the numbers, just mind-blowing. Never thought I would hear them do that one. All parts of the sound spectrum seem balanced now. "Bells of Rhymey" follows, them dreamy versions of "Airscape" and "La Cherite." I really do not ever tire of hearing "Airscape."

They really put the hammer down to close the main set: "Strings" - with the Pistol's progression, kudos to whoever caught that one - which was just stunning loud and in your face live, "Anglepoise" which RH related 'it took us forever to work the bits out' or something like that, and finally "Underwater Moonlight." This was really where the force of them as a band really struck me, last year seemed like a loud stereo or just too well played, but this time they are electric and seem to really be feeding off of each other and playing at the boundries. And Kim is in glorious form. The rant during "UM" is my favorite ever: 'It's the six-o-clock news, you're at fifteen fathoms and sinking fast' and continues to describe learning to breath water, being attacked by the squid, finding decomposed bodies in the cabin of a rusted hull on the seafloor, and then been shaken awake out of what has apparently been a horrible dream (RH screaming) 'Wake up Capt. Borovski, Wake Up!' whilst wildly detuning his guitar and Kim creating deep-sea noises over the pickups. Glorious.

Encores are all straightforward; "Narcissus," "Rock 'n Roll Toilet," "I Wanna Destroy You" ('dedicated to W, maybe Dick Cheney in the background, a side helping of Donald Rumsfeld, and how about that Condaleeza Rice'), and "Lions & Tigers." Surprise of the night comes when they're huddled around Morris trying to come up with something that hasn't been suggested, and I hear RH say 'Prawns - did anyone request that?' and they're off into it, trying to remember how it goes and Kim goofs it in one spot. I was in heaven, "Where are the Prawns" one of my favorite songs and I didn't even have a bag of frozen shrimp to throw either.

They're called back for "Man with the Lightbulb Head" and then a couple hours after it started, it goes quiet. Said a couple of quick goodbyes and them off home a bit after 11pm. What show indeed.

From Jim
Hello list. I just thought I'd add a few thoughts about my first Robyn show in a while (since the Italy tour of a few years back). I can't help myself because I'm still so excited about it.

Robyn was in good spirits, in good voice, quite talkative, clearly enjoying himself. I'd never seen Kimberley play before, and watching him is a pure joy. What energy. The band was in amazing form, hitting harmonies beautifully while playing intricate arrangements. So nice to see a band actually taking care to reproduce the harmony parts when playing live (and in some cases, add to them and rearrange them). Matthew and Morris were terrific as well; I'm a guitarist, so that's where my attention usually is, but they're an excellent rhythm section. Morris is such a tasteful, musical drummer. In short, the band reminded me of . . . no one else! And I think that just about says it all.

There was a stretch in the middle of the show, while they were playing "Belles of Rhymney" and "Airscape" and "La Cherite," when I thought that they where absolutely stunning. Stunning, beautiful music. This was the more "delicate" portion of the set, but there was absolutely no drop-off in intensity. If anything, it was the highlight (for me). The more raucous parts of the set were amazing, as well, but that didn't surprise me.

All of the new songs sound great live, and I was especially glad they played "Lions & Tigers," which, I think, was a surprise in the encore. Kimberley looked amazed that it had come off so well. I hope this tour spawns another record, because the band seems to bring out some great things, surprising arrangements, in Robyn's songs. And I'm glad to have Side Three, but I have to say that in this case it seems to me that Robyn chose exactly the best ten tracks for the real album (as opposed to the Mossy Liquor and Star for Bram situations).

My favorite incarnation of Robyn's live show was actually when he was in the acoustic folk troubadour mode, touring with Deni and playing songs like "Wide Open Star," "Surfer Ghost," and "Cheese You." But in terms of seeing Robyn with a band, I'd say this ranks with the pre- Respect Egyptians show here at the Park West as being the best I've ever seen. Don't miss them!

P.S. Admire the shirts, write about the shirts, but don't spend the entire show yelling about the shirts!

From The Chicago Tribune

Rock review, Soft Boys at Metro
By Kevin McKeough

There were lewd ad-libs about pumpkins, a song about a man with a light-bulb head, gleaming guitar hooks, soaring harmonies and Studio 54 rhythms, plus renditions of songs by Syd Barrett and the Byrds. It was, in other words, a routine evening for the Soft Boys, as the punk-era cult-heroes-turned-double-aught-indie-pop act performed at Double Door Monday.

Routine is not a word usually associated with the English band, given their idiosyncratic music and unlikely career path. Having made little impact during their first incarnation in the late '70s, the Soft Boys broke up, only to see their 1980 swan song, "Underwater Moonlight," become a classic in indie rock circles.

After reuniting last year for an enthusiastically received first-ever tour of the United States, the Soft Boys-songwriter/lead singer/guitarist Robyn Hitchcock, guitarist Kimberley Rew, bassist Matthew Seligman and drummer Morris Windsor-now are fashioning a second act. The band recently released "Nextdoorland," their first record of new songs in 20 years, and drew on it in equal measure with their early material during the show.

The constant in Hitchcock's music from the first incarnation of the Soft Boys through his solo career to the present has been its foundation in the "three B's"- Barrett, the Beatles and the Byrds. Those influences were evident in both old songs ("Queen of Eyes") and new ones ("La Cherite") as he alternated liquid psychedelic guitar lines with chiming folk-rock arpeggios.

Rew's mop-top haircut and bouncy enthusiasm gave him a puppy dog appearance, and his biting, barking power chords and terse solos added toughness to Hitchcock's flights of fancy. Seligman and Windsor also kept even the artiest songs anchored.

Even so, the music from "Nextdoorland" suggested an uneven Hitchcock solo album, with the songs sometimes getting channeled through his quirks and obsessions. The strongest new songs were the most straightforward, as Rew's opening salvo kicked off the surging, shimmering "Unprotected Love" and the lilt of "Mr. Kennedy" built to a finale that found Hitchcock and Rew wrapping their serpentine guitar lines around each other in an extended jam.

In these moments, the Soft Boys' new music rose to the standard they set with the songs from "Underwater Moonlight." The siren wail of Hitchcock's guitar and ascending three-part harmony made the anti-war broadside "I Wanna Destroy You" as thrilling as ever and, as the rhythm section played an ominous groove, Rew's silvery single notes crawled up the spine of "Insanely Jealous."

In these songs, the Soft Boys recaptured the brashness, anger and uncertainty of youth and, in the best of their new music, they showed they now can express mature emotions with equal artistry.

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