Robyn Hitchcock... Gigography

The Soft Boys
Concert appearance: Sat., 26 Oct. 2002

The Bowery Ballroom
New York, New York US

Set list:

Hear My Brane
Kingdom of Love
Queen of Eyes
Mr. Kennedy
Unprotected Love
My Mind is Connectedů
Man With The Lightbulb Head
Bells of Rhymney (Pete Seeger/Idris Davies)
Pulse of My Heart
I Wanna Destroy You
Underwater Moonlight
Encore: Narcissus
Encore: Rock 'n' Roll Toilet
Encore: Insanely Jealous
Encore: (I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp "Seven Winged Bat" version
Encore: Chapter 24 (Pink Floyd)
Encore: Disconnection of the Ruling Class
Encore: Stuck Inside of Mobile With Memphis Blues Again (Bob Dylan)

From Billboard: The Soft Boys have always been a band out of time. In their late '70s and early '80s heyday, they were neither raw enough for punk or gimmicky enough for new wave. Their jangly, neo-psychedelic guitar-pop, pristine harmonies, and sardonic, Cambridge-bred lyricism owed more to a mid-'60s Beatles and Byrds tradition that was decidedly out of fashion in the age of anarchy.

The band's 1980 masterpiece "Underwater Moonlight" influenced an entire generation of alternative guitar bands -- from R.E.M. to Yo La Tengo to the Flaming Lips. But dismal sales and poor label support forced the group to disband soon after the record's release. Frontman Robyn Hitchcock went on to a successful, if cultish, solo career, joined by drummer Morris Windsor in his backup band, the Egyptians. Bassist Mathew Seligman became an in-demand session player and then a lawyer, while guitarist Kimberley Rew founded and scored several pop hits with Katrina And The Waves.

Flash forward to 2001. After nearly two decades on the shelves of rock history, the Soft Boys -- now fully grown and slightly less tender men -- decided to reform and embark on an international tour in support of the reissued version of "Moonlight." Spurred on by the kudos these shows received, the band became far more than just another nostalgia act when it went back into the studio to record "Nextdoorland," its first album of new material in 22 years. Sounding contemporary, yet preserving the band's classic sound, the album proved to be worth the extended wait. Its choice cuts, as well as the band's beloved classics, pleased the adoring crowd earlier this week at New York's Bowery Ballroom to no end.

With Hitchcock in his trademark polka dot shirt, Rew in vivid paisley, and Seligman and Windsor in classic pinstripes, the band retained its colorful, hippie-mod style, albeit with more than a touch of gray mixed in. Even the aroma of Woodstock was in the air, a fact that didn't escape Hitchcock's sense of irony. "Where Mr. Bloomberg makes it impossible for you to smoke cigarettes in these places anymore, you'll be able to smoke weed still. 'Cause that's already illegal, so it can't be anymore illegal."

The observation sparked a typically surrealist Hitchcock rant on intoxicant-fueled illusions, which was the perfect introduction to the vivid musical imagery of the "Moonlight" classics that followed. "Kingdom of Love" retained all of its quirky, Beatles-esque guitar work and spine-tingling harmonies. The already keyed-up audience soon roared when it heard the familiar strains of the Byrds-inspired "The Queen of Eyes."

After the oldies warm-up, the band began to showcase songs from the new album, as well as selections from its limited edition "Side Three" EP (Editions PAF!). "This is pretty much what Jerry Garcia would be doing if he were still alive and there were two of him," said Hitchcock in his introduction to "Mr. Kennedy." With a moody, bluesy instrumental break that featured Rew and Hitchcock's extended guitar dueling, the song actually evoked the Doors' "L.A. Woman" more than any of the Dead's trippy ditties.

As on the album, the jam segued seamlessly into the bouncy, Bo Diddley beat of "Unprotected Love," then into the stream-of-consciousness wordplay of "My Mind Is Connected to Your Dreams." The time-themed "Pulse of My Heart," overflowed with hooks and harmonies, and featured more reverb-laden, Television-style guitar interplay between Hitchcock and the nimble-fingered Rew.

Hitchcock's solo career was represented by the offbeat gem "The Man with the Lightbulb Head" and a sublime rendition of Pete Seeger's "The Bells of Rhymney," the '65 Byrds hit he covered 20 years later on "Fegmania." And the charmingly eccentric, if long-winded, between- and mid-song monologues that have become a staple of his live performances -- and were heavily showcased in Jonathan Demme's concert film "Storefront Hitchcock" -- were offered up in generous amounts.

Some were his typically wry and whimsical observations and predictions, such as his pronouncement that time will start to run backward in 2012. "This is an actual fact," he insisted. "It's all on the London Underground timetables." But recent events have toned down his irreverence. In the politically-themed "Strings," Hitchcock chanted such lines as "Evil is the new enemy/Evil is the new bad" and "I wish that I was just paranoid," over Seligman's throbbing bass and Windsor's martial drumming, which made the song sound even more ominous.

And when introducing the band's most famous and often covered song, Hitchcock offered this disclaimer: "At this point we could play 'I Wanna Destroy You,' but out of respect to the people who were killed in the Twin Towers, and the people who were killed in Afghanistan subsequently, and the people who are going to be killed in Iraq, and the people who are going to be sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, we don't want to destroy anybody. There's been enough." The band then launched into the familiar, chiming chords and still stinging, if metaphoric, lyrics of the artfully anarchic anthem.

A vibrant version of "Underwater Moonlight" -- replete with a Hitchcock reenactment of the actual boating accident that inspired the song -- closed the main set. Encores included an intense version of "Insanely Jealous," a raucous rendition of the Stones-y "Rock & Roll Toilet," and a heartfelt cover of Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again." Hitchcock ended the enthralling, nearly two-hour show by telling everyone to set their clocks back two hours, just to be "more interesting." Purposely out of sync? He's still a Soft Boy, after all.

-- Cheryl Spielman, New York

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