By Larry Jaffee
At Robyn Hitchcock’s gig with his band The Venus 3 at New York’s Webster Hall April 26, he went into a stream-of-conscious diatribe about vinyl’s superiority over the “little” CD, essentially the old commerce vs. art debate.
Luckily, Hitchcock has managed to maintain a healthy recording (certainly one of the most prolific artists since the 1980s) and performing career that needn’t sacrifice his artistic vision. He’s the epitome of “alternative,” his latest album Love From London (Yep Roc) delivers a musicality that sometimes is missing from his body of work, most likely thanks to its producer Peter Noble, exemplified by the baroque feel of “My Rain.”
Providing some muscle to the concert was (former REM-er) Peter Buck on guitar, and his former bandmate Mike Mills and Sean Nelson (lead singer and co-songwriter for the Seattle-based indie pop band Harvey Danger) provided some background vocals. Buck has been a frequent Hitchcock collaborator for the past two decades. He played an angry, raw opening set.
On stage, the Hitchcock set list borrowed heavily from the latest album with the standout being the Beatles-ish “Strawberries Dress,” and also peppered with the would-be hits “So You Think You’re In Love” from the album Perspex Island (1991 ) and “Adventure Rocket Ship” (from Ole Tarantula (2006)
His surrealistic, comic banter, such as pointing out a moving garbage can near the bar in the back of the hall, which he said he played once before on Yom Kippur in the late 1980s, made the case for Hitchcock continuing the work of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, who apparently let psychedelic drugs get the best of him. (See Hitchcock talk about Barrett.) Who can say where Hitchcock gets his strange ideas about insects, food and metaphysics, but he delivers it all in stride — with no two concerts alike.
Tapping his Soft Boys catalogue for the first encore,
“I Wanna Destroy You,” which he introduced as being “chosen for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.” He then remembered he was playing New York by playing the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man” (which he said “is in all the storybooks”) and inviting favorite son Lenny Kaye to help out on guitar.
And what show would be without a Beatles cover, the Fab Four at their most trippy, “She Said She Said.” (I have a great bootleg of Hitchcock playing the entire White Album and channeling intermittently Lennon, McCartney & Harrison.)
Getting back to his comments about physical music formats, it’s obvious that if Hitchcock had his druthers, everyone would be listening to his music on vinyl, as an artifact of history.
I had a bit of a revelation two weeks after the Webster Hall show, at a record show in Massapequa, Long Island, when I shelled out $15 for a five-track Hitchcock EP entitled Eaten By Her Own Dinner (Midnight Music, Dong 2) on vinyl, a 12-inch, 45-rpm London pressing. At the time of purchase, the tracks weren’t familiar.
I got so much enjoyment listening to each track, especially the hypnotic voice/harmonium elixir on “The Abandoned Brain.” and then realized I had four of the five long-lost songs in my psyche on other compilation CDs, including Groovy Decoy and Invisible Hitchcock. He’s right — vinyl’s a far more enjoyable experience.
Speaking of reliving an enjoyable vinyl experience from my teenage years, kudos to ABKCO for re-releasing on May 28 the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Hot Rocks 1964-1971 on 180-gram LPs, pressed on clear vinyl.
Sure the label is trying to capitalize on the band’s 50th anniversary and ‘50 and Counting’ tour. These three initial releases launch a projected series titled “The Rolling Stones Clearly Classic,” reflecting the group’s formative years and transformation into “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” at the end of the 1960s and into the early 70s. All three albums have been meticulously mastered from high-resolution audio files sourced from the original master tapes, assuring optimal sound quality that exceeds both conventional CD audio and digital downloads.
While I really have no desire to see the Stones live any more, I don’t mind at all to listen to them on a turntable. The clear vinyl obvious enhances the records’ collectability.
My worn-out vinyl copies of those three albums, were long ago re-bought on CD and since transferred to my iPod. Of course, the music is impeccable, and it’s especially nice to have the original gatefold, 12-inch cover of Beggars Banquet depicting the graffiti-strewn, filthy public restroom instead of the staid substitute we Yanks had to put up with until the miniscule CD.