Music, Went There

WENT THERE: 3/3 Robyn Hitchcock @ ONCE Somerville



The show was on a cool rainy night at ONCE Ballroom in Somerville. Emma Swift opened for Robyn Hitchcock. The pair recently released a 7’ vinyl single together, LOVE IS A DRAG, on their own record label TINY GHOST RECORDS. Hitchcock, as diverse and storied as his discography, struck a tender tone with his new material with Emma Swift, also his partner, who both now live and work in Nashville, Tennessee.  Swift’s set, marked by her tender looming vocals, showed no will to conceal sorrow and despair wrought by personal tragedy and the dismal state of the world. Hitchcock then took the stage to applause and chants of Happy Birthday from the crowd— he had just turned 64. 

The focal point of the show was Hitchcock’s quick wit delivered in his sharp nihilistic tone. His comments on social media, Brexit, and the Trump administration, were as cutting as his performances of his gems such as “Vibrating”, “Queen Elvis” and “I Dream of Trains”.  This performance from the legend behind the Soft Boys was delivered to an older crowd. As a 20-something, performances like these bring out the music nerd in me and leave me wondering why Hitchcock, a hidden jewel of the underground scene in Britain in the 70s and 80s, was here overlooked by Boston’s younger music going contingent. 

Hitchcock first caught my ear on college radio a year ago, with his catchy surreal song with the EGYPTIANS, “Balloon Man”. He makes pop music that is still original… a constant breath of fresh air. It’s a feat, and a testimony to the man’s powers that music so personal and compact can come off so rebellious and individual, even by an artist spawned in the punk era who is now caught up in the Americana scene. A proclaimed surrealist poet and artist he speaks of his songs as ‘paintings you can listen to’ dealing openly with topics of drag, divorce and religion. Hitchcock though sometimes rejected and overlooked, is always fearless in his approach to songwriting and artistic creation.  He goes his own way.

This man’s magical music is nuanced and melodic in a world of chaos. He is an exemplary figure while parodying the bloated art motif,  performing in a Hawaiian shirt and turning a funny relative bit into a back and forth with himself and the audience between songs. Crossing the mundane, with the serious, and humorous impersonations, his performance is easy listening for a generation that joined AARP before the millennium. Yet this is music that is still interesting and perhaps even impenetrable for everyone else, because of its poetic nature and originality. 


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