Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nubian "Dave"?

So, what'd we do with the rest of our weekend?

After bumming around downtown post-planetarium, we went to our hotel, relaxed, looked around for a decent restaurant. Thankfully, that's something Chicago does not lack. First place we called had room for us at either six or eight, but nothing else. We took this as a good sign and we were right. I won't bore you with the details, but if you're ever in Schiller Park near O'Hare and really, really hungry, you will not regret going to Giannotti's Italian Steakhouse. Dang, but the 'monkey had a happy stomach Saturday night.

From supper back to the hotel for a while - the next stop on our agenda wasn't until 10pm. We lazed about like overfed lions, watching The Three Stooges. Nothing beats a good Stooge. Except another Stooge.

Finally, we rolled downstairs and set out for The Big Show: Robyn Hitchcock, performing I Often Dream of Trains at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Kids, it's been nearly two decades since we last saw Robyn and excited as we were to hear him do Trains live, we had trepidations. We had qualms. Was this really just a joke, a way to squeeze some cash from old fans, was Robyn still as good live, etc and so on.

The answer: We is idjits. Robyn is if anything better than he used to be. Trains live was a moving experience. Robyn put everything into the performance, ably abetted by his two multi-instrumental accomplices, and we should never have doubted him for a second. We beg forgiveness.

The show was nearly two hours long with barely a few minutes of off-stage time between the album performance and the almost equally long encore. Robyn began with an antique Walkman tapeplayer, brought out by an accomplice, who propped it on the grand piano next to the microphone and clicked it on to "Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl." After a minute, Robyn came out, sat at the piano and began messing with the tape speed, slowing it down down down before he finally shut it off. Easy joke? Hypercommentary on the possible stupidity of paying to hear an album probably every person in the audience already owns? (I think I have four copies...) Whatever, it was amusing. The Boy laughed.

And then he was off. Some songs were nearly note-perfect performances, like the opening piano piece, "Nocturne." Other times Robyn couldn't resist messing with his own lyrics, turning "drawn by Nubian slaves" into "drawn by Nubian Dave" for instance. I'll never hear the song the same again. And he did substitute once, a song I don't know well but that is on the new CD edition of Trains, called "That Fantastic Mother Church," for "Furry Green Atom Bowl." I gotta give him that one. I was wondering how he'd pull it off.

Standout tunes: Robyn slipped in a sublimely psychedelic rendering of "Winter Love" (technically not on the original album but I'm not gonna quibble) with electric and acoustic guitar, live manipulation of his vocals, piano and pulsing chord-organ sounding electronic keyboard. One of the most beautiful things my ears have ever heard. What else? How about a funny as hell - but it better be! - and enthusiastically performed "Uncorrected Personality Traits." Awesome "Sleeping Knights of Jesus, " too. Robyn apologized after this one, though. He wasn't attacking Jesus, he said. Jesus was cool, ahead of his time. He was attacking Christianity. Big laughs from our trio and other parts of the auditorium, some rather dry and forced I thought. (Godlessness is good; "Christianity is Stupid").

Encore set was lots of fun. "Raymond Chandler Evening" with a stunning improvised pocket trumpet solo and many more, including the show closing "Goodnight I Say," one of my favorite Hitchcock tunes. It's still in my poor little head. I think we also got to hear a brand new, totally spur-of-the-moment song. While they were tuning, folks started calling out song titles. Robyn studiously ignored them all until a woman yelled "Vegetable Something!" Robyn started to laugh, said she'd broke him down, stepped out to the mic and out poured a sixty second song about "vegetable something!" I'm not sure which of his "vegetable" songs she really wanted, but this one rocked!

And that was it. Standing ovation and he was gone. The Boy, My Smart Wife and me were in a musical and mental daze. We went back to our hotel and finally got to sleep around one. Hit the Lego Store in Schaumburg on Sunday morning and headed home.

A good time was had by all.

(PS - Saturday night Robyn wore the groovy shirt he's wearing in the picture above, though this isn't from the Old School. I want a shirt like this.)

Now playing: Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians - Hangin' Out with Dad
via FoxyTunes


mug said...

Robyn Hitchcock truly is wonderful. I try and see him at least once every two or three years if possible. Very good for the soul, I think.

Nazz Nomad said...

ooooohhhh, i haven't even thought about Raymond Chandler Evening for sooooo long.

my bad.

gomonkeygo said...

It's a good song, isn't it. The kind of song you can think of after years and just sigh, because it feels good to know that it exists and you've heard it.

The Modesto Kid said...

Saw him last night in NYC -- yep, he said "Nubian Dave" there too. It was funny because I had been thinking about that song all day in the context of "this is the day I'm going to see Robyn perform IODOT! The day I've waited for all my life!" OK, a little bit of an exaggeration but... Is "pocket trumpet" the little brass instrument that Terry Edwards was sometimes playing?

gomonkeygo said...

I call that a pocket trumpet. I'm sure there's a better, "real" name for it. Or that a pocket trumpet is another instrument entirely; I'm basing this on something I was told years ago at another concert. Too lazy to look it up.

Yours was a good show, eh? We've all been singing Hitchcock tunes to ourselves all week!