Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Robyn Hitchcock at Cyclops

A relative who's into music FB-friended Robyn Hitchcock & tipped me off that he was doing an impromptu show at the Cyclops in late October. He played the Triple Door late last week and I think Marco Collins interviewed Hitchcock and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5, used to tour w/REM) on Jet City Stream, so he'd been in town for a few days.

Dana and I were happy to get a chance to see him in such an intimate venue. We joined our distant cousin and got to Cyclops early, taking a table next to Hitchcock and a group of recognizable Seattle rock luminaries. Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch were talking with Hitchcock, guitars were out and tuned. We got drinks and appetizers - the hummus was very good - and settled in to wait for the show.
Thinking back, (begin flashback) I saw Hitchcock in 2004 at Bumbershoot with McCaughey singing and playing guitar and Sean Nelson doing vocals. I use the term "saw" loosely, we were in nose bleed territory in the McCaw Opera house, and they were a tiny brightly lit distant tableau of 2 or 3 people, most of them with guitars, down in front on the stage. I'm quite near-sighted so I saw very little detail. It didn't matter, I was won over by sound alone. The music was well written, the lyrics witty and complex, Hitchcock's slightly nasal voice and dry British humor totally winning the crowd over. I cringed at some of the lyrics - "viva Tacoma, viva Seattle, viva viva Sea-Tac, they got the best coffee, computers, and smack." Unfortunately it's true on some level, which is why it makes me cringe. From a musical context it felt like an indirect/unnamed Cobain reference, and with my career in software and life long caffeine addiction it resonates in various ways. Irony that hits you like a crowbar, with romping acoustic guitars twanging and ringing away, fast chord changes and odd song subjects. Nice! An instant musical crush, with no idea what he looked like. (end flashback)
The Cyclops show was the opposite scale, intimate and small.
DSC00400 Musically Hitchcock wasn't quite so snarky, at least he didn't do the Viva song. What he did do was a surprisingly large and varied selection of classics from his own and other band's material. My video recorder ran out of juice with an hour recorded, and I'd swear they played and talked for another hour and a half with only a short break.
They did an odd bit where they had a list of 34 or so songs and asked for a number, then they'd do that song. As far as I can tell there was no way to know what it meant, so I asked for and heard 23. It was great, no idea what it's name was though.
They did some great mildly obscure Beatles tunes - "One After 909" was good and "I've Got A Feeling" was unexpected and rocked the room, they were on all night. They occasionally got a little shambolic feeling - like they were working out some bits as they played, without having rehearsed all of the different things they were playing. Their shambolic key changes on the fly and "stealing" the chords by watching each other's left hands came off like nobodies business, these guys have been doing it and doing it well for a ridiculously long time. They threw in all kinds of fun curve balls and off beat bits like "Walk Right In" - you know, "Sit yourself down..." - hooking into it with a fun guitar riff by Kurt Bloch. I loved the Kinks numbers: So Tired with the harmonies working, that flowing background "So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you" with 3 part harmony and the crowd singing along. I may have kind of ruined some of the audio by singing too loudly, sorry about that. The transitions and chord sequences as the familiar verses and choruses roll out, wonderful songs done well. "Waterloo Sunset" was heartbreaking in the way the lyric circles back to the sunset and the emotion so perfectly counters the references to paradise with loneliness, chill and fear. Haunting song done breathtakingly well, and they kept on playing.
Some Soft Boys stuff, some stuff I didn't recognize, Bowie got some attention with "Jean Genie" and Ziggy Stardust's track #2, Soul Love

The cover of the Byrds' "8 Miles High" was excellent with good vocal harmonies:

I got a large number of good songs recorded, and missed recording an even greater number, definitely a special insider show.

Hitchcock talked a bit about playing as the house band at the "2 Bells" in Belltown, calling the Cyclops show a tryout of the new venue. We got to hang out and visit with the band before the show, between sets and at the end. I told McCaughey I'd seen the Young Fresh Fellows at Bumbershoot in 1977 - the earliest Bumbershoot I ever went to - and he pointed out that I had the date wrong, since they didn't form until 1981. I've conflated the first Bumbershoot I saw with a later one that the Fellows played out, odd how your memory plays tricks on you like that. That plasticity (and in my case, occasional vacuum) of memory is why I write this blog, so that I can keep the details straight as the memories fade. DSC00411