"I was never intentionally obscure," Hitchcock once said. "It's just that ... my songs always seemed very fragmented 'cause that's how I perceive things." A glimpse into Hitchcock's voluminous output—loaded with weird titles like "I Want to Be an Anglepoise Lamp" and "The Man With the Lightbulb Head"—reveals a deft writer whose songs veer from dream visions to unambiguous truths. He's a master of melody, too.
The title of Hitchcock's latest, Love From London, fits a singer whose work all but overflows with references to the fair and pleasant land of his birth and whose dour inflection confers an emphatic Anglo-ness to anything he sings. But where early songs like "Trams of Old London," from his early acoustic masterpiece I Often Dream of Trains, took an appreciative if skewed look backward, he now takes stock of today's Britain and doesn't always like what he sees. Well, mostly: "Strawberries Dress" is a whispery reverie addressed to a love object he fears will "explode or walk away."
Love is his fifth release for stalwart N.C. label Yep Roc. He surrounded himself with sympathetic musical cohorts, including Peter Buck, late of R.E.M., and Green Gartside of Scritti Politti. In 10 songs, he assays the city of his birth, a place to which he's often returned throughout a career that began in 1976 when he formed the Soft Boys.
A canny performer whose between-song stage patter reaches spontaneous, surrealistic heights, Hitchcock never gives the same performance twice. At a show in New York City a decade ago, an audience member handed him a copy of Ulysses, which he opened to a random page and seamlessly interpolated into the song he was singing.
Melissa Swingle opens Tuesday night's show, followed by Eleni Mandell in the opening slot on Wednesday. —David Klein