Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Robyn Hitchcock / Rasputina (Queen ElizabethHall)

One of the things about getting older is that your faculties, contrary to what you might expect, appear to disappear suddenly rather than just slowly, imperceptibly fading away. So I find that my memory has deteriorated rapidly over the last few years, and while I've always found it much easier to recognise a piece of music than name it, at this stage any connection between notes and titles seems as tenuous as it can be. This is why I never speak of such things as set lists. So you may, if it amuses you, take these posts as an essay in the foothills of senility.

Anyway, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in front of an audience who are mostly waiting for someone else who they've actually heard of to come on is of course a very different proposition to headlining at the Windmill, and Rasputina seemed at first here to be pursuing their more explicitly "chamber" side at first, easy on the pedals and steady on the tempi, less of the banter. Something seems to gel when "Saline the Salt Lake Queen" appears and I think by the end they won over some of the unconverted at least. It was a good performance, although it was never going to be quite as special as standing mere inches from the band in a small room. The two audiences remind me of the two Londons; one intimate, friendly, eager; the other cosmopolitan, standoffish, reserved. They're a great band, as individual in their way as is the headliner, and I hope they'll be back on these shores before very long, and welcomed by an increasing crowd (although a selfish part of me would like that crowd to be small enough to fit in the back of a pub).

Robyn Hitchcock's probably better in a pub too, but as I haven't seen him in that context I've no way of making the comparison. He's on home turf, of course, and playing to a crowd who have paid to see him, and playing an old favourite of an album, and he's got them in the palm of his hand, and can banter til the cows come home, and does. It's a relaxed set, and doesn't seem anything like the 90-odd minutes it transpires it took once I emerge into the foyer and look at my watch.

I could mention Syd Barrett and Vivian Stanshall and that whole pantheon of English eccentrics and surrealists he belongs to, that stretches back way beyond Dali and his ilk to the real origins of surrealism, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. But building up a legend isn't really what he's about. it's mostly quiet, unassuming music that doesn't need to declare its worth, and is all the more affecting for it. There's a simple joy that's easy to hear, much harder to put across effectively, the art that's all the more artful for its apparent artlessness.

Addendum: a man like Robyn H attracts a certain level of punter, among those present was none other than Nick Lowe. And Adam from TV's Adam and Joe. Which is quite exciting. But not as exciting as Nick Lowe. Sorry, Adam.

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