Went back to the Southgate House last week to see Robyn Hitchcock. This show was in the main venue, known as the Ballroom – a functional, sparsely decorated room flanked by a U-shaped balcony and large, glass brick windows. Hung from the balcony are various banners advertising several of the hipper radio stations in the Greater Cincinnati area, and as I sipped my beer and listened to the music, I made a mental note to check them out. The stage is small, the bar’s right there and fully stocked, and it’s just about all you could ask for from an intimate, funky music venue.
As for the show itself, I liked it – a lot. Mr. Hitchcock’s been around a while (as his grey mane attests), and has built up quite a repertoire of songs – quirky, sometimes nonsensical, but always melodious and appealing songs. I like to think of him as a poet of the visceral, someone who can sing about innards and love in the same chorus, and somehow infuse the viscera with a certain beauty and the love with a certain nausea. He did not disappoint, kicking the one-man (eventually two) acoustic (eventually electric) set off with “Chinese Bones” and “Balloon Man,” two songs from his Globe of Frogs album of 1988. The latter features this charming refrain:
And it rained like a slow divorce
And I wish I could ride a horse
And Balloon Man blew up in my hand
It’s weird, but stick it with a Beatles-esque tune and Hitchcock’s lilting nasal British voice, and suddenly you’re tapping your toes and smiling at the dark humor of it all. Later on, he even sang what can only be called an apocalyptic ditty – a bouncy head-bobber about a future when our monuments have forgotten us.
The show wasn’t all blood and guts and breakups, though – it was also a kind of love-letter to his musical influences. He covered Dylan (and had a long, funny aside on the importance of the mouth harp and hands-free holder for all Dylan acolytes), the Beatles (lovely renditions of “Dear Prudence” and “Glass Onion”), and, after breaking out the electric guitar with lots of fuzztone, Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?”
To me, part of the appeal was that he seemed a little nervous, like he felt naked on stage. I was struck by this during the show – here’s an accomplished performer playing songs he knows so well (except for the one he forgot the words to and skipped), and he’s restarting songs to get them right, charmingly fidgety and yet making eye contact with his audience, as if he wanted their approval. I believe he really did want it – and judging by the folks who stuck around afterward for the opportunity to chat with him and get his signature on a t-shirt or CD, he got it.
As we left this show, a bluegrass group was jamming in the front room, with the glow from the Newport Aquarium and Newport on the Levee over their shoulders. I like this place.
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