Psychedelic troubadour extraordinaire Robyn Hitchcock entertained a small crowd just before Christmas at the 280-seat Largo in Los Angeles with a dazzling double set heavy on ’80s and ’90s favorites.
If you’ve never seen him live, he not only brings his surreal songs about lizards, squid, and Balloon Men to life – tweaking the lyrics as goes – but delivers a witty between-song patter worthy of Monty Python or Eddie Izzard.
When he begins talking about how Queen Victoria’s entire royal staff once went bathing, covered in seaweed, sure enough, that’s a lead-in to his 1995 song “Victorian Squid.”
He opened with perhaps his biggest hit, 1988 college radio favorite “Balloon Man,” followed by “Listening to the Higsons,” “The Queen of Eyes,” and Madonna of the Wasps.”
Coming on the eve of the pro-Boris Johnson vote in England – his homeland that he now calls “mythical,” and “damp and full of spores” – he made a few despairing quips. It’s impossible to duplicate his rambling musings, but he did mention that since England is so determined to sever ties with the EU, it will now be towed next to Delaware.
Along the way, he riffed on The Doors’s “Horse Latitudes” and asked his sound guy to give him a “Bruce Hornsby” sound on one song. When the audience laughed at that reference, he was pleased they were old enough to know what he was talking about. (Hornsby, if you’re unaware, had an enormous hit in 1986 with the song, “The Way It Is.”)
Throughout, Robyn kept up an ongoing chat with the unseen Alan the Sound Guy and invited the audience to applaud Alan’s efforts.
The first set was just Robyn on guitar. After a brief break, he was back for the second set in his trademark polka-dot shirt, starting off on piano with “The Man Who Invented Himself.”
He launched into “Raymond Chandler Evening” after admitting he wrote the song about an “imaginary” Los Angeles before he ever set foot in the City of Angels.
His partner, Australian country singer Emma Swift, dueted with him on a few songs including “Glass Hotel” and “Virginia Woolf.” They were then joined by Fruit Bats lead singer Eric Johnson on a transcendent a capella version of the wistful “Trams of Old London.”
He closed the show with a solo piano encore dedicated to two of his biggest musical influences, Syd Barrett and The Beatles: The Pink Floyd song “Astronomy Domine,” which was written and composed by Barrett (who left the band the following year), and “God,” from John Lennon’s first post-Beatles album, “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.” The final lyrics: “I don’t believe in Elvis/I don’t believe in Zimmerman/I don’t believe in Beatles/I just believe in me.”
The Largo’s lobby features several artistically rearranged mannequins, including one that’s half human/half gramophone, as well as a female mannequin with a lightbulb for a head. It was my first time at the Largo, but a fellow patron told me that it’s been there a while and is not an homage to Robyn’s song “The Man With the Lightbulb Head.”
After the show, he met fans and signed merchandise. On sale were singles from his Tiny Ghost label (named after his late, lamented cat, Tiny) including “Sunday Never Comes,” which he wrote for the film “Juliet Naked.”
During the show, while touting the “merch” outside, he promised that his current cat Tubby would personally fly each copy of the record purchased online to the buyer’s house via an old prop plane. Tubby would do all this while conversing with a helpful navigator toad – and managing not to drop the package in the carp pond. Godspeed, Tubby!
Robyn is on tour through May 2020: Check his concert schedule to see if he’s playing near you soon: https://www.robynhitchcock.com/tour