Robyn Hitchcock McGonigel's Mucky Duck February 6, 2013
I'm not sure whether to review Robyn Hitchcock's banter or his musical performance.
The Mucky Duck was blessed with two evening performances from Mr. Hitchcock Friday, with not an empty seat in the house. Backs pressed against the Duck's bar, no one left Friday evening unfulfilled. His ability to connect with the audience through his use of smug yet charming Brit humor coupled with his songwriting and performing skills made for a flawless Friday evening.
"I have 14 friends -- that's two more than Jesus," Hitchcock said, only to follow up with a remark that had everyone in the audience rolling, "Jesus -- the missing years. He was doing stand-up then. That explains why they took such drastic measures to shut him up."
Hitchcock's wry, thought-provoking humor feels at times out of place. At other times, however, that very same humor is the type of comic relief necessary after a deeply moving scene in a film. Filled with plenty of laughs filled and equally poignant moments, his music and his monologues fit together perfectly like a quirky old couple who knows what the other is going to say or do even before they do.
Nearing 62, Hitchcock played a career-spanning set, including songs from the Soft Boys to last year's album The Man Upstairs. With his white mop of hair looking like Peter Pan would have today had he been in a rock and roll band, the boy who never grew up could no longer avoid the certain fate his age brings.
Beginning ominously with "The Abyss," Hitchcock, for all of his wittiness, is a romantic at heart. "I don't know what is true/but my compass points to you," he sung to the reverently quiet audience. As he memorialized the suicidal crew members of "The Wreck of the Arthur Lee," his voice made room for the necessary reflection, unlike the original's rockin' bridge. The crew of The Arthur Lee dies for love, not for some self-serving principle. In The Mucky Duck's intimate setting, appreciation for the song's intent is better served.
Listening to Hitchcock's classic Soft Boys tune "Only the Stones Remain" reminded the crowd less of his post-punk roots than his devotion to Bob Dylan. When the words "All of the colors have run out around November" escaped his lips, the crowd instantly recognized "You and Oblivion." Immediately after the song's completion, the catharsis had begun.
As Hitchcock exhaustively toyed with the tuning knobs of his guitar, storytime began. He shared a theory of how our ancient ancestors began to tell stories in caves while they sat around a fire impatiently waiting for the instrumentalist to get his act together. This plot thread with the curious yet charmingly stupid young man asking his father how things came to be, from stories to "fornication," continued.
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Then he spoke of the "Magnum Force Suite" in honor of both the Dirty Harry character and the city of San Francisco entitled, "San Francisco Patrol," dedicating the song to himself. By far the best track from last year's album, The Man Upstairs, the song's longing for someone the character intensely watches during surveillance is buried within its beauty.
A singalong ensued when "My Wife and My Dead Wife," an Egyptians classic, emerged. Everyone who knows and loves Hitchcock sang every word to themselves. "Dismal City" and "Queen Elvis" fled the scene like a miscreant child not waiting around to find out his consequence. The night's set ended with "Oye Tarantula," leaving his fans in anticipation of an obligatory encore.
And the obligatory encore did not disappoint. Bringing up the night's opening act, Australian singer-songwriter Emma Swift (also Hitchcock's personal merchant and tour driver), they shared vocal duties on the Townes Van Zandt classic, "Pancho and Lefty" After a false start. Another of the evening's many highlights, the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes," showcased Lou Reed's subtle yet powerful minimalistic elements. Sometimes the flattery of others is revealed through a person's appreciation of the songwriting craft.
Between his stories and his showmanship, it is easy to become distracted by Robyn Hitchcock's charisma. But that aside, the most heartfelt moments happened when he earnestly performed the songs, giving him one of the most distinguishable identities in music.
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