Bucking a Hitchcockian Rhythm while on the LAM!
But thatís not the "prnt"! The "prnt" is without that ridiculous show, I never would have been exposed to Robyn Hitchcock, or his backup band, the Egyptians. I might have lived anyway, of course, but why should I imagine having to take such a risk. Stranger things have happened than Robyn Hitchcock stepping in to cure cancer or something... alas, Iíll never have to know. Nor will I have to meet the hinted at grave having never seen Robyn Hitchcock live. Amid the chaos of my (remarkably unsuccessful) attempt to have my Oscar Reviews Page fully set up, uploaded and accessible at least seven days before the ceremony, I managed to win tickets to see old Robyn with guests The Minus 5 (who also served in some capacity as his backup band) and folkster Richey Lam of the clan Lam.
In tow was míwife Suzanne, who loves Robyn Hitchcock like an Irishman loves Beer (Iím Irish, get over it), and my daughter Alex, who... has... um... also... heard or Robyn Hitchcock, she thinks, or whatever. I should mention that the following events transpired prior to my receiving of (and subsequently popping my eyes out, "Roger Rabbit style" over) the One Hundred Fifty Dollar Bar tab I managed to rack up with the help of my wife, and to a much lesser degree, that kid of mine (apparently Bottled Water now carries the monetary value of Universal Donor Plasma now, and I missed a Memo).
Surely the opening band always sucks, so we can skip Richey Lam, right? Wrong. In fact, Richey Lamís performance was one of the best and most noteworthy of the night. Richey came out looking like a folk singer, complete with relaxed clothes and casually cool hair, and yes, that ubiquitous acoustic guitar. Lam was much more than expected however, as he didnít ever devolve into the current trend of cloning Dave Matthews (or anyone else for that matter). Lam was most certainly his own man every step-in-place of the way! As he sang some of his memorable songs (unaccompanied by any band but his own strumming hands) about love, intelligence and loss (mostly loss) he brought his guitar into the act visually and musically, occasionally lining the neck up with his own in parallel (as if playing an upright bass) or swaying it tastefully to his own rhythms. Occasionally Richey provided his own percussion, rapping his fingers on his acoustic guitar, while managing to continue to strum at the right times. This was no mere three chord performance either and it was striking to note how full and rich Lamís sound managed to become. Band or no band, Lam transcended mere minimalism, and used his smooth voice and clear, well written lyrics to bring the audience right into his songs. Never the typical baritone blues-man or the peace-voiced Donovan wannabe we often find, Lam managed to surprise us with the occasional well placed falsetto that got the crowd applauding his range. Lastly, it was Lamís attitude that kept our interest through and through. Richey Lam seemed grateful to be on the stage (and considering heís not short on gigs, this is cool to note). He consistently plugged the next band (The Minus 5) and thanked the audience sincerely after each thunderous applause. The best thing about Lam's attitude is his sense of humor. While performing some sad love songs he never fails to throw in a laugh-inducing lyric, or an aside to the audience that kept us laughing as if he were delivering a stand-up comedy act instead of a Folk Rock performance. I left that night after having shaken the manís hand and having bought one of his CDs, Love Vs. The Brain. Quite a show! (For more on Richey Lam, or to catch him live, visit RicheyLam.com!) YYYY
Because Richeyís show was a one-man acoustic jam, the time between sets was mercifully short, and The Minus Five bounded to the stage with a wry humor that almost competed with Lamís deadpan. Scott McCaughey may or may not be a recognized face, but heís hardly a rookie. As the leader of "The Young Fresh Fellows", "Tuatara" and "Fifth Beatle" to R.E.M., one might expect him to sound a lot like Michael Stipe with an electric guitar around his neck.
One would be right.
Not that this is a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. Scottís wild coif and relaxed, t-shirt and jeans look seemed perfectly in-line with the old KSCL days, as did his sarcastic, audience pleasing jokes. Trading variously overlaid and harmonized vocals with his lead guitarist, McCaughey led a set that would have fit perfectly on an early-1990ís tour with Maryís Danish or They Might be Giants, or yes, even Robyn Hitchcock. The Minus 5 have a groove they remain in (but arenít tied-down by) that still screams "College Radio Hit" from opening chords to final "good night", with driving, melodic guitars and sustained, lyrical vocals (often sounding like the cross between a Theremin an accelerating 1966 Chevy truck). The comparisons to R.E.M. couldnít have been stronger if the Minus 5 actually had featured R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck as a member. Oh, by the way, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck is a member of the Minus 5. (No, Iím not joking! Here he is opening for Robyn 17 years after Robyn opened for R.E.M. in 1989... talk about full circle!) Buck mainly took over the Bass Guitar duties for the band, adroitly carrying the rhythm and swaying in his subdued presence to his own jam. He also traded axes some of the time, picking on the six string as Scott went back to BASSics. Buckís appearance was hardly a well-kept secret (even for those who hadnít bought the bandís recent EP), hell it was printed on the ticket for cryiní out loud. However, I was most elated over getting to see and hear (live) the Minus 5ís drummer, one William Rieflin, whom Iíve been listening to since before I gamed my way onto the KSCL Airwaves. From Ministry to KMFDM to The Revolting Cocks to even (yes, again) R.E.M., Iíve been a fan of this guy through it all, and seeing his unmistakably thundering, proficient, yet passionate skin-and-brass-bash in person was worth its weight in melted cymbals. This was a hell of an Ensemble. (Check out the Minus 5 Official Site and check out old Scott [that isn't Leif Garrett or Danny Bonaduce] at Minus5.com.) YYY1/2
If there were any "Egyptians" at the Coachhouse that evening, they were in the audience with the Hungarians, Brits, Cherokees, Turks, Germans, and us Irishmen. In case you were wondering, I didnít see any "Soft Boys" either, unless you count me with my Stay-Puft physique. This led us careening toward the question of who would be serving as Robyn Hitchcockís back up band. Surely he wasnít pulling a Richey Lam on us, right? Well, right. The drum set wasnít moved, the rest of the stage, barely touched, and with the exception of me kicking over our table and screaming "ONE HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS FOR NACHOS, BEER AND WATER???" very little of the ambiance was altered in any way shape or form for Robynís show.
Yes, the Minus Five (minus one) backed Robyn up for the headline act, and kept superb time with him throughout his "Modern Rock" classics and on into his more subtle and chic Bob Dylan/ Syd Barrett era. The novelty (read: near-climactic joy) of seeing William Rieflin, Peter Buck and Robyn Hitchcock on the stage together was abated only by the excellence of the focus-grabbing music. Of course, Robynís been doing this for around thirty years now, and knows a little bit about what heís doing. This also affords him a certain intimacy with his club crowds, almost like a guy coming to the office after 30 years, having a joke for every occasion and a smile for every coworker (actually, I guess that does only happen in music). Hitchcockís clear and Bowie-esque delivery through song after song never faded, nor did his classy impressions of Dylan or Barrett when called for. Further, not all THAT many of Robynís songs fit into the slow and low category, allowing him to take his omnipresent guitar into a harder rocking direction (which Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin were only too happy to help him with).
A persona like Hitchcockís might be hard to share a stage with, and his well-respected presence could be a bit intimidating if it didnít come with such a self-effacing and humorous personality. Heís always played with whimsical lyricism and witty sarcasm, however even in speech this silver mane pushed the boundaries with his comical asides (fitting perfectly with those of Lam and McCaughey earlier). Everything from the Bush Administration to Robynís own parents, to sex, to Robynís own parents having sex (bringing about his own unlikely existence), to the DVD collection of the Dirty Harry films (you should hear his Clint-Impression) ended up as fodder for his string-accompanied jokes.
As fantastic as that was, it was merely the spice in the dish, because the music was what it was all about, and damned if that music wasnít dead-on excellent! Robyn Hitchcock slid effortlessly between songs, genres and moods, always with his guitar in full progression. It should be no surprise considering the amount of practice this dude has had, but Robynís guitar playing is equally as excellent as his voice, and together they unified into a front not heard since... uh... well, since Richey Lamís opening performance. Robyn had his band-accompaniment, though and didnít rely solely on his own guitar, even though we knew he could have. Further Hitchcock was happy to play second fiddle (or guitar-right as the case may be) when the Minus 5 rolled into another great song, with Robyn on rhythm.
The man knew how to begin a show, how to sustain a show, and yes, how to end a show with just the right punches. He came off as an expert who simply knows what works best and goes with that arsenal until the last encore fades. Robyn has progressed in the last 30 years or so, arguably much more than the usual act and he has honed his live act into a multi-tiered collage that amounts to anything-but a "Nostalgia Show". Of course, for those who were there to hear the "Old" Robyn Hitchcock, and remain blissfully unaware of the Spooked album, that guy was there too, in full-on un-tucked Black-and-White polka-dot Oxford, black jeans and tennis shoes under a head-of-hair as white as Rieflinís own. (Some bands have an "Official Site" or a "Home Page", Robyn Hitchcock, instead has The Museum of Robyn Hitchcock! Visit the Museum at RobynHitchcock.com!) YYYY1/2
All told, this was a never-dull evening, packed with some excellent songs (some surprising as sung by Lam), and enough comedy to keep even the tag-a-longs entertained during the "host segments". This was a classic and diverse mix of the veterans, the stalwarts and the up-and-comers and worked best as a stop on a club tour. Does Robyn Hitchcock deserve to sell out huge arenas? Hell yes, but thereís a certain brilliant connection he commands in these smaller venues that makes for a witty and familial show. A collective Four Stars out of Five for the February 24, 2006 Coachhouse Theatre show of Richey Lam, the Minus Five and Robyn Hitchcock. For those of you preferring Top Forty Hits over the sensitive stylings of "The Complete Larry the Cable Guy", this tour isnít for you. However, those who actually attended college while listening to college rock (I did the following year, I swear), I recommend this show! Now, if youíll excuse me, I have to use my job-finagling skills I learned from the KSCL experience to get an extra 15 grand a year out of my boss. If Iím going to keep attending these Club Shows with a required bar tab and built-in gratuity, Iíve gotta find a way to pay for it, kids. I wonder if "Are you a student?" will be part of those negotiationsÖ
The show could have been improved by the presence of naked women!
Yeah, we were Fragrant!
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Yeah, we were Fragrant!