The consensus amongst those at The Grace Emily on Wednesday night who had dropped everything to speed to the venue to catch the latest instalment of the musical adventures the legendary musical surrealist, Robyn Hitchcock, and his talented and seraphic-voiced performing partner, Emma Swift, was that it was only by luck that people had heard the gig was scheduled at all. Most had only heard at the last minute through word of mouth that the former Soft Boy was once again in town.
Hitchcock has been very loyal to Adelaide and he knows his die-hard core of fans will always be in attendance when he makes an appearance here – especially if they are actually aware he’s in town!
So, those who were fortunate enough to catch him this time around, were given a show even better than last December’s acoustic triumph.
Still suffering from the after effects of jet lag after a many-legged beast of a flight from his home base in Nashville, Hitchcock began his set chronologically – working through early Soft Boys material including I Got The Hots, Queen Of Eyes and I Wanna Destroy You, all introduced by classic rambling intros that served as prime examples of the man’s ability to take any topic into an unexpected and entertaining direction.
He moved steadily through tracks from his catalogue: starting with early album favourite 52 Stations; and then through songs of the calibre of The Lizard; Brenda’s Iron Sledge; My Wife & My Dead Wife; Uncorrected Personality Traits, I Often Dream Of Trains, Queen Elvis, Linctus House, Glass Hotel, Ole Tarantula, Victorian Squid, (A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs, N.Y. Doll, and covers of Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, The Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon, and Roxy Music’s More Than This…just to name all those that I can now recall. There were more!
Strangely, he chose not to do songs from his latest self-titled album. An especially odd decision when Robyn Hitchcock would clearly have to rate as one of the best albums of the last 12 months released by any artist.
Once loosened up and obviously keen to enjoy himself amongst old friends, Hitchcock was happy to field requests – but did turn down some suggestions (including mine for Sayonara Judge) for being ‘too bleak’, and asked us all to throw up some song titles by other artists for him to consider playing – he was happy to cover Roxy but, sadly, after a brief moment of consideration, he decided not to sing any Bowie songs.
At moments throughout the show his stream-of-consciousness ruminations touched upon topics such as the 1964 visit of the ‘three Beatles’ to Adelaide, and the Australian customs ordeal when he was challenged for his negative answer to the question about bringing any wood into Australia by asking him what his guitar was made of…
Emma Swift, came up on stage to back him beautifully on four or five numbers, and, as was the case in their last two visits to this town, her magical counterpoint to Hitchcock’s gnarled vocal idiosyncrasies once again provided some of the most memorable moments of the performance.
Whilst it was disappointing to see fewer fans in the audience than at his past Adelaide shows, I have to admit to a misplaced sense of cultural superiority that I, along with those other few dozen acolytes in attendance, got to see such a special and intimate performance from one of the great song-writing talents of our time, whilst so few others did.
After the show, both performers said they would probably be back again, most likely in March 2019, and hopefully with a full band. By then Swift will have released her own album and Hitchcock, no doubt will have released more material, going by his consistent and prodigious output of releases to date.
Hopefully we will all be given ample notice of his arrival next time, so we can ensure we pack the Grace Emily out when they get here!
Robyn Hitchcock & Emma Swift played the Grace Emily Hotel on December 6, 2017.