Robyn Hitchcock spins alien performance at Nightstage
With guest Jodi Grind.
10:30 pm performance.
Nightstage, Oct. 9.
By DEBORAH A. LEVINSON
ROBYN HITCHCOCK is clearly an alien from outer space. I know this is a true fact because he dedicated last night's performance to "absent aliens." And after all, how better to explain a man who writes songs about being shrunk down to the size of a match head and injected into the veins of Queen Elizabeth II? Still doubtful? Consider his song about the old pervert lurking under the bridge who only wants to show his victims the contents of his refrigerator . . . or perhaps the one about liking bananas because they have no bones.
Whether alien or not, Hitchcock is one of the most engaging performers I've ever seen. His concerts truly are performances, not just rote repetition of the latest LP -- he spends as much time delivering bizarre, ad libbed monologues as he does singing. During the show at which I saw him, he spun a tale of Martians observing Earthlings placing bits of paper on top of flat surfaces. The hungry Martians call up to the home base for Fiddle-Faddle caramel popcorn, only to discover that the ship has nothing but Screaming Yellow Zonkers candy left. Later, a Scottish spaceman enters the picture and debates consuming the Martian eggs . . . and so forth.
After fabricating a convoluted story to connect the snack-starved Martians with transvestites, Hitchcock began last night's late show with "Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl," which he followed with "Trams of Old London." Both songs are from his first acoustic album, I Often Dream of Trains. Because these songs are acoustic, he rarely performs them when he tours with his band, the Egyptians. This time around, however, Hitchcock is touring solo and unplugged in support of his new acoustic album, Eye, and most fans were glad to see his older material get a workout.
The evening's songs were well-balanced between old and new, with Hitchcock drawing equally from his Soft Boys repertoire as well as his later albums. The crowd, however, was most appreciative of his sly, sleazy rendition of "Old Pervert," from the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight. Curiously (and probably much to the chagrin of his record company), he only performed one song from Eye, "Beautiful Girl."
Many of Hitchcock's songs deal frankly with sex, although one sometimes has to read carefully between the lines to glean out the erotic content. Fegmania's "Insect Mother" adapts well to an acoustic treatment; stripped down to nothing but acoustic guitar, it acquires a fragility that gently frames its romantic message:
Lift up your candle skirt
And weave your nylon spine
In velvet and in onions
You will soon be mine.
Yet Hitchcock's songs can also be blatantly sexual, as in "I Got a Message for You," which he described as a paean to the peculiar formalities of British mating rituals. The song is funny in the first place (consider the lyrical couplet "treat me lean and rubbery/let's go to the shrubbery"), but Hitchcock made it even funnier by accompanying it with cartoonish facial contortions. He closed his final show in Boston with Underwater Moonlight's "I Got the Hots," a song whose most memorable aspects are its grungy, bluesy melody and the growled chorus, "I got the hots for you."
Newcomer Jodi Grind and her band were a welcome surprise. Grind has a powerful, versatile voice, and she proved as competent on Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" -- a stunning, sensual version -- as she did on her own compositions. She and her three-piece band slid from jazz to blues to flat-out rock 'n' roll without showing any signs of strain. Best of all, she wasn't afraid to perform the unusual. I was especially impressed with her soulful rendition of the old Schoolhouse Rock classic, "Naughty Number Nine." The band finished their set with a vicious reworking of the theme from the television show Spiderman.