Cat's Cradle Back Room, Carrboro
Tuesday, Feb. 4
For the first few numbers, the figure onstage could have almost passed for a dour-voiced folk classicist with an idiosyncratic lyrical bent. Finally, a brief offhand remark signaled that we were attending a Robyn Hitchcock concert
: “As it’s autumn tonight, we celebrate the menopause.”
During the course of his set in the intimate Cat’s Cradle Back Room last night (the first of two consecutive shows), the interstitial narratives increased in depth and scope, including one about God’s vacation with Satan, wherein the Supreme Being sulks in the window seat because he wants the aisle. Amid the passing references to putrescent fruit and Donald Rumsfeld, Hitchcock also spoke lucidly on the nexus of his discursive storytelling and songwriting tendencies. The witty stuff, he explained, comes from his thinking mind. The songwriting “comes from the damaged inner, which is weeping over the way things have gone.”
Beginning with “The Abyss,” an unfamiliar recent track from a 2011 release on the Norwegian label Hype City Recordings
, Hitchcock provided a nuanced selection of his voluminous catalog. There were a few “classics,” like “My Wife and My Dead Wife,” but mostly he provided a tasting menu that emphasized the acoustic side of his catalog. “The Wreck of the Arthur Lee,” a gorgeously despairing homage to the troubled figure behind the 1960s band Love, highlighted Hitchcock’s melodic gifts. The song earned him a death threat from its subject (although they eventually reconciled), and in the hands of another singer, that story surely would have become fodder for stage patter. But Robyn Hitchcock doesn’t do that kind of stage patter.
Toward the end, before comedian Eugene Mirman joined him onstage for some extended comedic riffing, Hitchcock broke out what felt like the evening’s biggest surprise—a sparkling rendition of “Queen of Eyes.” A two-minute burst of Byrds-ian whimsy from his days in the Soft Boys, it contains a line that shows Hitchcock’s early knack for surrealistic candor: “In this horrible age of abuse and decay/it’s good to know that somebody’s looking OK.” It’s an oddly compelling assurance from a man both odd and compelling.
For the record, he’s still looking more than OK.
"The Wreck of the Arthur Lee"
with Eugene Mirman