Robin Hitchcock With Emma Swift Kessler Theater, Dallas Sunday, February 8, 2015
One of England's most influential songwriters and live performers, 61-year-old Robyn Hitchcock is known for his surreal and whimsical lyrics. But when Hitchcock came to visit The Kessler Theater on Sunday night, it was his between-song banter that may have stolen the show. It was ridiculously hilarious, poetic and nonsensical stuff, just what one should perhaps expect from such an accomplished songwriter. And it left the crowd in stitches, which disappointed no one, especially as it comprised a good part of Hitchcock's set. Who needs the Grammys when you have entertainment like this?
Hitchcock first came to prominence with the Soft Boys, a band who played melodic, chiming jangle pop in the punk era. Starting in the late '70s, the neo-psychedelic group released an EP and a couple albums before disbanding in 1980. In 1981, Hitchcock released his first solo album and has been prolific since, releasing his 20th studio album, The Man Upstairs, last year. Mainstream success has often eluded Hitchcock, but he enjoys an enthusiastic cult following, which was well-represented by the crowd last night.
The legendary Joe Boyd produced The Man Upstairs, which Hitchcock is currently touring behind. Boyd has worked with the likes of Pink Floyd (in their early days), Nick Drake and Bob Dylan, all of whom clearly inspired Hitchcock. Curiously from a songwriter prolific enough to have recorded over 500 songs, almost half of the new album contains covers by the Psychedelic Furs, Roxy Music, Grant Lee Phillips and the Doors.
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But there was little need for those covers on Sunday for Hitchcock, who showed up wearing a colorful and very awesome shirt. Like opener Emma Swift, he also performed solo acoustic and only used his harmonica for one song. From his 1988 album, Globe of Frogs, "Chinese Bones" was a highlight early on in the set. It was a very moving rendition, carefully enunciated with fingerpicking guitar. After the song he explained, apropos of nothing whatsoever, that Dick Cheney and Halliburton do not exist in his reality.
In fact, there was very little to be seen of the new record. The songs Hitchcock played from it were very strong, like the poignant and wistful "San Francisco Patrol." It sounded just as good as anything from his back catalog. Another highlight was "I'm Only You," an older song from his 1985 album, Fegmania! Before the song he requested echo and delay for the guitar solo that closes the track and the sound guy took good care of him. "Adventure Rocketship," from the 2006 Ole! Tarantula album, was also particularly great. After requesting some "rock 'n' roll delay," Hitchcock sounded very much like John Lennon on vocals for this track.
Swift joined him towards the end of his set for backup vocals on "Trams of Old London," which Hitchcock claimed he once performed at Bill's Records right here in Dallas. The song is spooky and psychedelic on his 1984 album, I Often Dream of Trains, but this live rendition was soft and sweet. Swift stayed for "Queen Elvis" from 1990's Eye and the title track from Ole! Tarantula.
For the encore, Hitchcock brought Swift back out, as well as Yvonne, who he introduced as "a Sagittarius who does all the driving and sells merch." The trio played a gorgeous cover of the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes," with all three getting to sing a verse. And then the show was over and Hitchcock made his way out to the lobby for The Kessler's customary post-show meet-and-greet.
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Singer-songwriter Emma Swift from Sydney, Australia made her Dallas debut last night and opened the show with her powerful voice and acoustic guitar. If not for her charming Australian accent, she could have easily been mistaken for an American. Her sound was bathed in teary eyed country soul in the manner of Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams, but in between songs she gushed about her love for Elvis Costello. She played her entire self-titled "mini-album" along with covers by Gram Parsons ("Brass Buttons") and Rodney Crowell ("'Til I Can Gain Control Again").
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