Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 At The Troubadour
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By Nate Hertweck
West Hollywood, Calif.
Tuesday night in West Hollywood is as good a night as any to visit the legendary Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard. When you walk through the club's wooden double doors you enter a room that seems far too small to house its massive rock and roll legacy. On April 30 veteran British songster Robyn Hitchcock cut through the thick air of rock folklore between those storied walls and told his own tale of a journey through music history.
Hitchcock, who turned 60 in March, has spent the past four decades churning out his brand of quirky melodic folk/pop, collaborating along the way with the likes of John Paul Jones, Nick Lowe, Jon Brion, Johnny Marr, and, most recently, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, who accounts for one-third of the Venus 3, Hitchcock's backing band on three studio albums over the last eight years. The band is rounded out by bassist Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5) and the chameleon-like drummer Bill Rieflin (Nine Inch Nails, Swans, Ministry).
The show began with a brief but captivating acoustic set featuring some of Hitchcock's most popular tunes, including "Cynthia Mask" and "So You Think You're In Love." His inventive acoustic guitar phrasing filled the Troubadour's PA system with as much sound as a full-range rock band. Vocally, Hitchcock's delicate melodic accuracy was most apparent on these stripped-down songs, giving the crowd a candid look into his songwriting prowess. He then called the Venus 3 to the stage, referring to them affectionately as the "sons of country blues."
The Venus 3 provided the perfect rhythmic backdrop for Hitchcock's delightfully offbeat, heartfelt and often irreverent writing. Buck's guitars washed over the songs like a shiny coat of paint on a classic car, and Rieflin's drum work was tasteful and driving. But the night clearly belonged to Hitchcock, whose charisma, creativity and command of his craft leapt off the Troubadour stage. He masterfully wielded melodies that were as beautiful as they were intricate. The two-hour set spanned his career from eclectic classics such as "Madonna Of The Wasps" to lively new material like "Be Still," from his 2013 release Love From London. Hitchcock even wore his 60s folk/rock Beatlesesque influences on his sleeve, returning triumphantly for an encore with his version of the Fab Four's "She Said She Said" and closing with an experimental version of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High."
Between songs, Hitchcock's surreal, hilarious and often stream-of-consciousness stage banter kept the crowd laughing. After his second equipment failure of the night, he joked, "I haven't had this many guitar changes since I was Jimmy Page." Perhaps even the Troubadour hasn't seen a character quite like Robyn Hitchcock before.
Hitchcock will perform a special star-studded concert celebrating his 60th birthday May 2 at the Fillmore in San Francisco where he'll be joined by Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller, crowd-funding queen Amanda Palmer and the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, among others. For additional tour dates, click here.
"So You Think You're In Love"
"Never Stop Bleeding"
With The Venus 3:
"Kingdom Of Love"
"Queen Of Eyes"
"I Love You"
"Sally Was A Legend"
"Up To Our Nex"
"Madonna Of The Wasps"
"I Wanna Destroy You" (the Soft Boys)
"She Said She Said" (Beatles cover)
"Give It To The Soft Boys"
"Eight Miles High" (Byrds cover)
(Nate Hertweck lives in Los Angeles where he serves as Content Manager for The Recording Academy. Hertweck also plays guitar in a rowdy rock band, produces artist tribute projects and collects musical gems in all formats. Connect with Nate on Facebook.)