Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rather Than Alone and Pointless

The Facebook hive was working overtime when a bearded DJ threw out a simple enough inquiry.

Anyone going to the Robyn Hitchcock show tonight at Capital Alehouse?

The comedian immediately came back with the smart-assed, "I'm sure someone will be there." A fellow movie/music fan replied, "I'm going. Does this make me uncool?" A favorite music couple weighed in, saying, "In discussion now...we may be there."

The music writer/DJ lent his gravitas by sharing, "Never seen a bad - or even so-so - Robyn Hitchcock show. He's a treasure." Two different friends said they were sure it wouldn't sell out, yet I had a feeling they were way off the mark on that.

From a friend who told me he planned to go then opted out because he was "tired" (easily the most over-used middle aged fallback known to man), I got this: "He is hilarious. I saw him with the Egyptians in like 1986."

What? And you don't want to see how he and his live show have held up over the past three decades? Good god, man, is your curiosity completely shriveled?

Easily my favorite came from a guy I didn't even know, but whose affirmative answer could have been my own. "Alone and pointless by my moldering self I'd be otherwise." Also in lockstep was the guy who said simply, "mememe!"

Personally, I'd bought my ticket over a week ago and I joined the line snaking out of Capital Alehouse's door around 7:10. The problem was the doors weren't yet open despite a published door time of 7 p.m. The young host did his best to move people through once they finally opened, but by then he was facing an onslaught of people wanting to get into the sold out show.

As I finally passed him, I took a second to compliment his handling of the middle-aged mob, thanking him for gracefully wearing so many hats simultaneously. Just as I finished expressing my appreciation, a man just ahead whirled around and said in an overly loud voice," Well, I don't think you're doing a very good job. These doors should've been opened 25 minutes ago."

The host apologized to him for the wait but it wasn't enough. "This is all part of the experience and we didn't want to waste it standing in line!" After an awkward pause, a nearby woman reminded him that it wasn't the kid's fault and the cranky guy got crankier, saying he was telling him so he'd tell his boss and it wouldn't happen ever again.

Clearly he'd never been to a show at Cap Ale before. There's always a line.

The good news was that being solo meant I got seated with an existing table directly in front of the stage. The people there, a Robyn Hitchcock fan who'd seen him in '92 and her Dad, a poet who greeted me and told me he loved my hair, graciously welcomed me to their humble table.

They immediately proved their worth by sharing the reason for the line forming outside: Robyn Hitchcock had been meticulously setting up his merch table (which he later referred to as "dodgy merch"). Knowing the artist, what fan would complain about that?

Our table was complete when another singleton was dropped off by the hostess and he turned out to be a former photographer who had already seen Robyn at least four times. He's lost count. One of those shows was delayed starting because Robyn had insisted all the band members wear actual waffles on their heads to sing "Wafflehead."

"I think they used Eggos or something," he recalled.

We chatted non-stop for a while, ordered food and the lights dimmed as it arrived. The poet leaned in and stage whispered, "I can't see my food! Get out your lighter!" I reminded him that cell phone flashlights have replaced lighters and he was showing his age.

Nashville duo Cale Tyson (a long, tall drink of water who cherished sad songs) and Pete (bearded and less extroverted but killing it on lead guitar and harmonizing vocals) took the stage to sing songs offering romantic advice ("If you're going to love a woman, you're gonna be blue, and if you love a man, you're going to be sad and that's the truth"), pick-up lines ("I love you like the sunset, And all your drinks are on me") and lamentations about the foolhardiness of putting your own picture on a t-shirt ("I've sold 35% fewer t-shirts than when they just had my name on them").

Then Robyn Hitchcock came out with his fabulous white hair wearing a navy and white polka dot shirt to reminisce. "The last time I was here was in 1992 at the Flood Zone. My eyesight's not as good as it was then, but I think most of you were there then."

My friend had been correct; this guy was hilarious. His offbeat ruminations and occasionally surrealistic storytelling aided by his fast-processing mind ("I've got a cough, but it's really inspiring") meant between songs was as fully entertaining as the songs, which is truly saying something. Smart guy humor at its best.

Simply put, I don't think I have ever laughed at a music show more than I did tonight. Loudly, at times.

Besides singing a wide range of his catalog, from gems such as "My Wife and My Dead Wife" to "When I Was Dead" to his newest "I Want To Tell You About What I Want," he sipped a cup of good coffee and posited that, "A lot of being alive is all the things you can cram up into your mouth."

He was particularly clever with his requests to the sound guy, Joe, before many of the songs, such as asking him to put "a little sparkle dust" on his guitar so it would sound like a well-played 12-string. Or he wanted his voice to "move in a heavenly arena." One time he wanted his guitar to sound like "George Harrison, double-tracked" and another, "Graham Nash, triple-tracked." Once it was, "I want it to sound like David Crosby is singing harmony with me." Perfectly reasonable requests.

Joe made them so.

Ever the gracious Brit, Robyn thanked the audience for the listening room-like environment, specifically "for not discussing all the many thoughts in your head while I'm singing." I don't think it would've occurred to any of the devoted crowd to speak while this man sang or spoke.

He encored with "Mad Shelly's Letterbox" and a reworking of what he referred to as "an old folk song" done by his original band, the Soft Boys. The pointed "I Wanna Destroy You" had been updated to include a verse railing against Fox News. Actually, he asked for a pox on them, netting cheers and applause.

"I hope to see you again before another 25 years!" he said by way of farewell, causing the boisterous crowd to give him a couple of standing ovations. The uber-fan next to me turned to talk, comparing this show to the four previous he'd seen and insisting I immediately go buy the Soft Boys' "Underwater Moonlight." Will do.

As I'd expected, the line at the dodgy merch table was sizable.

Note to the doubting Thomases who showed their pessimism in the hive: the show was not only sold out, it was standing room only. Those who opted out missed out.

When my friend had decided to flake, he'd messaged me saying, "Sorry. Have fun." Pshaw, my response was not to apologize to me because the loss was his, not mine. I'd just seen that proven.

In fact, the evening was probably best summed up by the guy who'd earlier answered the hive query with a simple "I wish!"

Luckily, my moldering self didn't have to.

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