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A Review of Robyn Hitchcock at the MIM, Phoenix, AZ, 3.3.16

“I’m Not Fully Reconditioned Yet”
Among the reasons for going to a Robyn Hitchcock concert—of which there are more than you might think, and only one of which is the high quality of the music performed—is Robyn’s stage banter. Though he tends to mine similar themes, there is no hearing the same story twice—unless you follow his entire tour, then maybe you’ll hear some retreads, but as most of the banter evolves from his sense of the place he’s in, it seems terribly unlikely, and perhaps it was that the show fell on the occasion of his 63rd birthday, perhaps it was the fact that the size of the audience in attendance was much more robust than the pathetic number that turned out for his last concert at the MIM over three years previously, but RH appeared to be in an altogether more relaxed, less cynical mood, and not at all concerned with the fact that he was playing in a museum (something that seemed to stick in his craw the last time).

This time, Robyn’s banter centered on the dryness of the air; the idea of preconceived notions (and how they can’t apply to Phoenix); something about flies that seemed quite funny at the time; a free-form story about how he hasn’t been fully reconditioned yet, and how when you’re not fully reconditioned bits of you move five seconds behind the other bits; and occasional requests to “Bob,” such as, “Could you make this guitar sound like a 12-string, and also make it sound like I play really well.”  In other words, he was in fine form.

Hitchcock’s set featured a couple of new tunes that are most likely for the forthcoming album he’s spoken of in recent interviews. One might be called “I Pray When I’m Drunk,” and the other might be “I’m a Loser”—these titles are solely speculation based on choruses, and they were quite good. There were plenty of what some might call “standards” or “hits”: “Madonna of the Wasps,” “Balloon Man,” “Raymond Chandler Evening,” and “Queen Elvis”; the classic Soft Boys tune, “I Got the Hots for You”; the requested “A Skull, a Suitcase, and a Long Red Bottle of Wine.” My favorite songs of the evening though were the deeper catalogue and rare cuts such as “Man with a Woman’s Shadow,” “Nietzsche’s Way,” “Sometimes a Blonde,” “Trams of Old London,” and “Glass Hotel.” The encore, as appears to now be the standard for Hitchcock, consisted of a group of covers, the first a solo rendition of his favorite song—which he claimed as his birthday indulgence—Dylan’s gorgeously meandering “Sade Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” then The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” and Neil Young’s “Motion Pictures” joined by Emma Swift on harmonies.

The setlist is by no means complete, and not at all in order. For a complete setlist in the order played, please consult someone with a better memory for that sort of thing.

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How to Play Guitar with Your Idol

First of all, we’re gonna skip right over the fact that I haven’t written on here since July of 2013.

Instead, we’re going to launch into why Glenn Tilbrook–on top of being a vocalist of amazing skill and range–is a musician of the highest order, and one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Mr. Tilbrook is the musical half of the songwriting partnership (the lyrical half being Chris Difford) behind the band Squeeze who are–in keeping with the theme–one of the most underrated bands in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Squeeze is best known for the singles “Tempted” (which has appeared in approximately a thousand commercials and has been covered by everyone and their grandmother) and “Up the Junction” (the song’s most recent notable use is in a pivotal scene of the show Breaking Bad, one of my all-time favorite shows, and so you can only imagine when I heard a song by Squeeze being used in the background of the scene where Hank, but that’s way the hell off topic). They had some success stateside in the ’80s, sold out Madison Square Garden, had some top 40 singles, blah, blah, blech. You interested in Squeeze? Find these albums and listen to them: ArgybargyEast Side Story, and Play.  Mind you, they’re all good, but those are three of my favorites, and so why shouldn’t you start there?

Anyway, I could (and do) go on at great length about how amazing Squeeze is, but this particular ramble is focused on the nimble fretwork of Glenn Tilbrook (and how I got to play guitar with him).  For recorded examples of Tilbrook’s genius, listen to the following Squeeze songs: “It’s So Dirty,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “When the Hangover Strikes,” “Slaughtered, Gutted, and Heartbroken,” “Letting Go,” “Some Fantastic Place,” just to name a few; all of his various solo endeavors; the Aimee Mann album I’m with Stupid–he’s all over that one.

However, to truly understand the genius of Glenn Tilbrook, one must experience him live, solo, unencumbered by a band.  The solo stage is where Glenn spreads his fingers and lets them sail up and down the frets in a way that cannot be accurately described, it must be experienced, and I have done so on 5 occasions over the past 13 years. Next time you should go with me, he’s brilliant.

During solo shows, Tilbrook is known for his stage antics–stepping out into the audience, playing the final encore on top of the bar, taking the crowd out into the streets, and even inviting some lucky soul up onto the stage to play with the master.  I had never personally witnessed this last one, but on the night of Wednesday, October 8th, 2014, I not only witnessed, but actually was that lucky soul.  Just before launching into a blistering solo for “Take Me, I’m Yours” (another one of the songs you should listen to), the man asks if there are any guitarists in the audience, a few of us, including myself tentatively raise their hands, he wants one of us on stage.  Absolutely no one is going.  Glenn’s just hanging out on stage keeping rhythm on G minor, and the offer is almost gone.  Before my mind can comprehend what I’m doing (which is probably a really good thing), I am rushing towards the stage and mounting the stairs.

Here’s the blow by blow best I can remember it: Glenn asks if I want to play acoustic or electric (I’m pretty sure I just mumbled something and pointed to his beautiful, black Stratocaster), he helps me with the knobs so the thing makes sound (because I have suddenly forgotten how to do anything), at some point in this I let him know that I don’t know all the chords (one of the few Squeeze songs that I did not know all the chords to), he tells me the chords, he asks me my name, he introduces me to the crowd, and then we’re off and going.  I’m playing “Take Me, I’m Yours” with the GlennmotherfuckingTilbrook, and I did not totally embarrass myself.  Towards the end of the song, he asked me if I wanted a solo, and there was no way that was happening, but, urged on, I did mess around a little bit.  Song finished, the man gives me a hug, a shout out to the crowd, I put the amazing guitar back (I didn’t take the guitar pick–why didn’t I take the pick?), and back into the audience I go.

Down there in audience land, the disbelief sets in.  Did that actually happen?  It did.  My friends took photos, my girl shot video, fellow audience members accosted me and gave me pats on the back.

With all due respect to my friends and loved ones, and not to discount any other achievements I might have amassed along the way, this was probably the single greatest moment in my life.

Oh, and the chords? Verse: Gm Cm; Chorus: Eb D Gm Cm back to Gm; all solos played over Gm.  I will never forget those chord changes.

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