“Did that song seem creepier 30 years ago?” Robyn Hitchcock asked his largely spectacled crowd assembled last night at Music Box Supper Club after he played an achingly intimate rendition of “My Wife and My Dead Wife.” The song, perhaps one of Hitchcock’s better-known, is much like its writer: darkly humorous, painfully sincere and yet somehow perfectly impersonal. Hitchcock is like a friend who knows you better than you’ll ever know him — and not for lack of trying.
Hitchcock nearly filled the club, a stunningly fitting backdrop for the highly charged acoustic performance the 61-year-old Brit put on for his fans. Hitchcock’s famously oddball stage banter started out light — one bizarre, hilarious turn of phrase after the other balancing passionate performances of “The Wreck of Arthur Lee” and “Only Stones Remain.” Song choices were effectively plucked from both the college-radio-famous-work Hitchcock did with the Egyptians in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and his beloved Soft Boys catalog.
“Only the Stones Remain” was an engrossing couple of minutes; Hitchcock held the crowd spellbound with his faultless guitar playing skillfully punctuated by wild harmonica yowls and his utter dedication to putting special emphasis on the word “ovulating.” “She Doesn’t Exist,” a song that Hitchcock introduced as being about an “old girlfriend who went crazy,” ached with a kind of honest longing, Hitchcock’s playful words about receding away from his past partner took on a certain kind of weight that simply isn’t on the album he put out with the Egyptians in 1991.
The rest of the set took on a similarly mournful, contemplative, autumnal tone, with choices like “You and Oblivion” and “Sally Was Legend” becoming even more than the fascinating psychedelic folk snapshots they exist as on “Moss Elixir” and “Jewels for Sophia.” After a relative fistful of tunes, Hitchcock announced to the disbelieving audience that he would be playing one more song before he headed off stage. After “Ole Tarantula,” complete with poorly executed audience foot-stomping, Hitchcock disappeared behind the curtain, only to reappear minus the geometric floral pattern shirt he wore for the first portion of the show but plus a polka dot brown and white button down affair. “As an indulgence to myself, I’m going to play some songs from my record collection,” Hitchcock said before gently winding through covers of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You,” Nick Drake’s “River Man,” a cranked up and punctuated mutation of Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” and Julian Cope’s “Charlotte Anne.”
Although Hitchcock maintained his signature impenetrability even during the potential vulnerability of plucking cover songs, there were times throughout the night when he started to seem slightly less like the sort of musician who simply enjoys toying with his oft-intoxicated core audience. As Hitchcock sang about “holding the rails tight” on “You and Oblivion” (an obvious but poignant metaphor for journeying through life alongside a loved one,) followed by his matter-of-fact delivery, moments later, of their parting (“Let's slip your hand on the platform, said I must be going) it almost felt like you could, if you wanted to, catch a real glimpse at the ever-evasive Robyn Hitchcock.