PLEASE NOTE: If you’re looking for a review of this weekend’s Alt-J shows at First Avenue, thanks for looking here. However, we reviewed their prior stop at the Varsity Theater and weren’t too impressed, so we went with an old-standby that we haven’t covered in a while instead.
Two songs into his solo-acoustic performance Sunday at the Varsity Theater, Robyn Hitchcock announced that all the numbers on his set list would be love songs. He wasn't kidding, either. As he proceeded to play “The Wreck of Arthur Lee” and “Museum of Sex” for his next pair of tunes, though, it quickly became apparent that Hitchcock’s idea of romantic songwriting sure does stray far from conventional wisdom.
“This is a love song about where babies come from,” the British alt-folkie, 60, said later on while introducing “Ole Tarantula.” He added, “Actually, it’s about love and fear of where babies come from.”
More than 30 years since he ended his run with the Soft Boys on his way to cranking out 19 widely varied solo albums, Hitchcock is as eccentric and indefinable as ever. He challenged his audience again on Sunday, skipping a lot of his best-known songs and sticking with the aforementioned theme, as hard as it was to follow.
Sunday’s crowd had it pretty easy, otherwise, with only a half-full club and plenty of room for tables and chairs scattered about the place. Is there a more comfortable venue in town than the Varsity when it’s set-up cabaret-style like that?
Even in the night’s most outlandish and peculiar songs – “Aquarium” and “Sometimes a Blonde” were especially broad in scope (and ultimately boring) -- Hitchcock’s soothed-sand voice had its own comforting familiarity. “Wax Doll” and “She Doesn’t Exist” both sounded all the more elegant unplugged, and “My Wife & My Dead Wife” turned into the oddball highlight of the 105-minute set. Then came a thoroughly enticing “encore” (he didn’t actually leave the stage) filled with a trio of deep-cut covers by Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Ray Davies -- songwriters' songwriters. If his record nerdy-crowd didn’t love the show by then, then they at least must’ve found true love in the end. See the set list below.
The show’s ending was most bizarre of all: Hitchcock brought out opening comic Eugene Mirman, and the two just sort of shot the schtick for 20 minutes, talking about everything from Minneapolis’s old street cars to Lids, the store with duplicate Mall of America locations featuring nothing but baseball caps in it (Miram brought it up, and Hitchcock seemed fascinated).
About the only funny part of the free-ramble came when a fan asked Hitchcock where he got his boots. “It’s where all the rockers get their boots,” he said, mentioning that Peter Buck and KT Tunstall are also clients of the place. But then he added, “One of my toes is kind of cramped, which [proves] I’m not really a rocker, and more of a folkie.”
The Abyss / I Got the Hots / The Wreck of Arthur Lee / Museum of Sex / Queen Elvis / Serpent at the Gates of Wisdom / Wax Doll / Cynthia Mask / Aquarium / She Doesn’t Exis / Sometimes a Blonde / My Wife & My Dead Wife / ?? / Adventure Rocketship / Ole Tarantula ENCORE: Born in Time (Bob Dylan cover) / Tower Song (Townes Van Zandt) / Fancy (The Kinks) / I’m Only You