On Sunday, October 9, 2016, I was back at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles to see the one and only Robyn Hitchcock, along with some special guest musicians. Opening the night was Robyn’s current partner in crime and lovely Australian import, Emma Swift.
Emma’s set was short and she played a few of the songs she had done when she was at Largo in June (see previous post “There’s No Derailing Destiny“). Her first song was “Seasons.” When she finished she mentioned the presidential debate that we were all missing and stated, “I’m with you!” She pulled out her pretty cover of the Gram Parsons song, “Brass Buttons,” as well as remarking on her attire, the “flared pantsuit onesie I am wearing — I am Graham Parsons spirit animal.” She further remarked that perhaps it needed more bedazzling.
It was a nice surprise to see musician Jamie Wyatt join Emma on stage to perform a delicate space-themed song she wrote called “From Outer Space.” They had only practiced together backstage at Largo and commented that it was “gonna be loose,” but Emma’s harmonies were spot on and the duo’s voices blended perfectly. Emma sang her song “Woodland Street” to which Jamie provided a few licks and embellishments on her Fender guitar. They followed it with “Bittersweet” and in case we didn’t get the point from the song, Emma stated afterward, “I sing bleak sounding songs for happy people.” Emma asked Jamie to stay and play on the next one, though she may have never heard it, and they performed a cover of Rowland S. Howard’s “Shivers.” The simple chord changes on this one make it easy to pick up and so it was a fine cover.
The pair left the stage and Robyn came on, announcing, “It’s an emotional day for many reasons, so I’ll kick off a song.” He played a seemingly suitable, somewhat new song, “I Pray When I’m Drunk,” including lines, “Some things you change, some things you cannot change, all things are strange.” Robyn was in a talkative mood that evening, frequently commenting between songs and sometimes straying off on amusing tangents. Robyn is a big fan of John Lennon and this concert happened to fall on the anniversary of Lennon’s birthday. Immediately after the first song Robyn paid homage to his hero, stating, “In honor of John Lennon’s birthday, we’re keeping slap echo on my vocal for the whole show.” He then launched into his song “When I Was Dead” from his album Respect. Note the Beatles sounding intro on the recorded version!
Prior to his next song, Robyn said, “This song was requested for the show I did last night in Tuscon,” which got a laugh. He asked for “a nice dismal reverb on this one” and commenced playing “A Skull, a Suitcase and a Long Red Bottle of Wine” from I Wanna Go Backwards. Robyn asked for some Lennon slap on the next tune and said that the song was “set during the first slaying in Magnum Force and it’s about my mother.” The song was one I loved the lyrics of so much the last time I saw Robyn at Largo, “Light Blue Afternoon” from Norwegian-only release Tromsø Kaptein.
Emma joined Robyn on the stage as the slap was taken off and Robyn called for reverb, requesting from the soundboard, “Make us sound like we’re in a cathedral; and can you make this [his guitar] sound like an acoustic guitar with digital delay.” He played “Glass Hotel” from Eye with Emma singing harmony. Robyn then mentioned how he and Emma went to Canada and met with Norman Blake of Teenage Fan Club to produce new single, “Love Is a Drag,” which they then performed on stage. Robyn then introduced Jon Brion, who took his place at the Korg keyboard. Robyn asked for “Lennon Harrison reverb” and announced they would play the “B side,” the song “Life is Change,” which I think is a perfectly suitable and timely title for this blog post too. Jon scooted over to the Largo piano for the next tune. Robyn talked about how the next song was developed from a Lennonism and when it was questioned that it was really developed because of Morrissey, Robyn backpedaled to say, “They both creatively exploited their own unhappiness.” That song was “Queen Elvis” from Eye.
At this point Emma left the stage leaving Robyn and Jon alone for a couple songs. Before the first one Robyn advised Jon, “This is very predictable.” Jon responded with “Will I need welding googles?” Robyn replied, “Depends how bright my magnesium is.” They then perform “My Favorite Buildings” from I Often Dream of Trains. At the close of this one and after asking for “Lennon slap echo back for this one,” Robyn said of the next tune, “This is about a lost planet. Actually it’s escaping. It’s escaping from classic rock, escaping from Dadchella” (a reference to the Desert Trip festival that was taking place that weekend in Indio, CA). The song being referred to was “Adventure Rocketship” from Ole! Tarantula.
Robyn then introduced Benmont Tench and commented that they were “crossing the border into John Lennon.” At about the same time, a mirror that had been sitting on top of the piano falls down onto the keys as Benmont sits down. Eerie timing. They play Lennon’s “Isolation.” Then the gentlemen were joined on stage by Paz Lenchantin on violin and backing vocals and they performed Lennon’s “Mind Games.” The next song, Robyn introduced as “By me, triggered by Lennon.” They played his song “Somewhere Apart” from the album Element of Light. They close the main set with a cover of The Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” When Robyn forgot the words for the third verse, I helped him out with the lyrics from the audience.
For the encore, we got to hear Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” with Jon Brion doing his marvelous rendition on the piano. He’s played that one before. Benmont was on the Korg and Robyn on his guitar and lead vocals. This is my favorite Lennon song, so of course I was pleased to hear it live. All the musicians were on stage for “#9 Dream,” and I saw something I haven’t ever seen before, which was Jon struggling with a song. He and Benmont ended up switching places part way through, so Benmont was on piano, seemlessly providing the backbone of the song, and Jon adding adornment on the Korg. Following all those Lennon tunes, Robyn introduced the final song by joking, “I do a pretty good Robyn Hitchcock,” and the group concluded the evening with his song “Olé! Tarantula.”
John Lennon also has played an important role in my life, ushered in by discovering the music of The Beatles right around the time I became a teenager. I then spent about two years listening almost exclusively to The Beatles and that experience would forever influence the kind of music I consumed. When I was on my trip to New York in August, I was able to visit the John Lennon Memorial site at Strawberry Fields in Central Park. About a week later, Emma and Robyn did the same thing! Here’s my photo of the Imagine mosaic with tributes from some fans in honor of John.