Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Live Quarantine Show Parts 10 through 13
Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Live Quarantine Show Part 10 - All David Bowie Requests
I’ve really come to look forward to these streaming sessions from Robyn and Emma’s couch in Nashville, and they never seem to disappoint. After the Friday afternoon Syd Barrett show, they were back on schedule for Wednesday night and a special, all-request David Bowie show. Our hosts seemed to be in a good mood months into lockdown. By way of an intro, Emma noted of her floppy-haired, home-shorn companion, “Robyn’s brought (Andy) Warhol’s hair.” They started off with a great version of ‘Soul Love’ from Ziggy Stardust, but the mic levels were way too hot, distorted and distracting. The commenters on the feed, which Emma keeps an eye on, alerted her and the levels were set properly for the second song.
Emma Swift sang a solo, gorgeous version of ‘Moonage Daydream’ which was really stunning. Afterwards, Robyn spoke of Bowie as a genius, along with “Virginia Woolf, Willian Shakespeare, and...Tubby (the Cat).” The two of them did ‘Starman,’ these stripped down versions really showing off how great Bowie’s melodic gifts were. This was followed by a terrific version of ‘Quicksand’ from Hunky Dory, as the the lonely lyrics go:
I ain’t got the power anymore
Knowledge comes with death’s release
Robyn switched to his electric guitar (a Fender Telecaster) and beautifully picked ‘Life On Mars?’ Emma sang alone again, her voice is a wonderful thing, we need to hear her on more recordings. In introducing ‘Heroes’ Robyn said this song was “Bowie and Eno’s take on a Velvet Underground song … so this is how I imagined Lou Reed playing it.” Reg rolled out a slow, stately, very ‘Perfect Day’ type version of ‘Heroes,’ and it truly gave me chills. I hope he will record this version sometime.
Robyn mentioned that Syd Barrett was a big influence on Bowie, and he did ‘Sons Of The Stone Age’ (from Heroes) which would not have sounded out of place on the Syd Barrett covers show. Emma mentioned learning and playing these songs was “very emotional” and that ‘these songs go way back.” It was obvious that both Reg and Em are big, big Bowie fans. They did a great, bouncy version of ‘Drive-In Saturday’ from Aladdin Sane, Em remarking “It’s so catchy, that one.” This was followed by what I could only describe as the ‘jaunty pop’ of ‘The Prettiest Star.’ When the duo did ‘Kooks’ from Hunky Dory I was struck at the inherent folkiness of these early Bowie songs. I always associate Bowie with weird synths, big bands, and time-stretching Eno and Visconti production, but most of his songs were written with an acoustic and can be played that way without losing their essence. Robyn and Emma get that.
They finished up with a pretty funny version of ‘Golden Years,’ Reg vamping it up a bit, and were able to do about half of ‘Wild Is The Wind,’ Nina Simone style with Emma singing solo before the feed cut off for time.
Another great show, David and Robyn and Emma. A special trio.
Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Live Quarantine Show Part 11
Part 11 was where the show had some real issues. There were some issues with StageIt, their streaming platform, so our intrepid duo moved the show to Robyn’s Facebook page, starting about 30 minutes late. Robyn, looking a wee bit flustered, played solo on his Gibson acoustic, while Emma, I believe, was frantically working on the streaming issues. Reg played ‘Raymond & The Wires,’ a wistful song about his Dad and trolleybuses, from his latest Yep Roc record Robyn Hitchcock. He then did ‘The Cheese Alarm’ from Jewels For Sophia, and then my computer just quit. Took me a while to get back online, but when I finally did, they had moved back to StageIt, and things slowly returned to normal.
Reg and Emma together sang ‘Ruling Class,’ from Luminous Groove, and there was a discussion of the song afterwards, Robyn saying it was an “exhumed B-Side.” Discussion of the British class system somehow brought up Boris Johnson, to which Reg snapped a vulgarism, viewed by non-Brits as misogynist (they don’t seem to view it as gendered). Emma was horrified at the word choice and they agreed they were playing these shows to get away from all that political noise. Emma picked one of her favorite Hitchcock songs, Reg saying he “recorded it twice with the Soft Boys,” and played ‘Rock And Roll Toilet.’ After the song Robyn commented “I wrote that song and then lived it.”
Introducing it as his “newest song,” the duo did ‘Take Off Your Bandages,” a beautiful and angry song about the school shooting in Florida. Robyn switched to his Fender Telecaster and did an electric version of ‘America,’ from Groovy Decay. This song featured Robyn whistling(!). Appearing to be less panicked, the duo did a beautiful version of ‘Autumn Sunglasses’ from Robyn Hitchcock, a song they were doing live when we last saw them (tinyurl.com/zubreglive). Their voices were great together on this one, and Emma ended up saying “it’s been a stressful day.’
Robyn did a beautiful version of ‘Veins Of The Queen’ from Queen Elvis, they looked for Tubby the cat but Em said Robyn’s bad language was “below Tubby’s standard.” Robyn switched to acoustic and he and Emma did ‘Glass Hotel,’ a very Lennon-esque tune and very sad:
Seems like you were in a glass hotel
Seems like there was someone else as well
It seems like, it seems like, a dream
Now in encore time, they played ‘Wild Is The Wind,’ the Bowie via Nina Simone cover. Emma sang solo and torched the hell out of the song. What an amazing voice she has! The duo ended up with one verse of ‘Listening To The Higsons,’ and this fraught-with-peril, spanning-platforms show was done. Robyn and Emma are to be commended for getting the show on and cheering us all up.
Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Live Quarantine Bob Dylan Secret Show Part 12
Due to the last show being a bit of a debacle, Robyn and Emma sent me an invitation to a ‘Secret Show’ for Bob Dylan’s birthday. This one was a present from Robyn and Em via the infamous Zoom platform, the unofficial meeting place of this quarantine period. Logging in it took a few minutes to get everyone sorted, muted, and ready to go. Quite laughable. Robyn was at their kitchen table in their East Nashville home and false started three times before he was able to properly launch ‘She Belongs To Me.’ I’ve mentioned numerous times how Robyn Hitchcock brings a gravitas and sense of melody to what seems to be thrown-off songs and lyrics of Dylan. Robyn makes these songs fantastic; it’s like he is singing the Old Testament of rock.
During ‘Desolation Row’ (from Highway 61 Revisited) there was some glitchiness with the feed, slowing down and speeding up, a bit unsettling but not too bad. The video and audio on Zoom was much better than StageIt (the platform they usually use) so that was a real plus. I was having technical problems of my own though, my computer conveniently cutting off at critical moments. When I returned, Reg did ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’ from Time Out Of Mind, and introducing ‘Clothes Line Saga’ from The Basement Tapes, he posited that Bob “had been listening to Bobby Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billy Joe.’” At this point, Emma Swift appeared, plugging her forthcoming new record, Blonde On The Tracks, a collection of Dylan covers.
They then played ‘The Man In Me’ from New Morning but probably known to most of us as the Dylan song in The Big Lebowski. Emma sang lead, and she was wonderful as usual. Then...Tubby appeared! Tubby, the one-eyed member of the Swiftcock Scottish Fold cat duo, was docile and so very cute and hung around for a few minutes. Reg and Em did ‘Just Like A Woman,’ a lighter, more fingerpicked version that their first Bob Dylan covers show when they played it, and their voices sounded great together. Then my computer quit, again.
Returning to the show, Robyn discussed how Dylan’s songs explore “The comfort of doom,” and proceeded to play ‘Shelter From The Storm’ from Blood On The Tracks. Robyn’s highlight of the night was his amazing performance of ‘Not Dark Yet’ from Time Out Of Mind,'' a rendition truly raising goosebumps, picked beautifully on an acoustic. Emma brought him a cup of tea and he remarked “who thought the apocalypse would be such a constant.” Robyn then did ‘Visions Of Johanna,’ a Dylan song he seems to almost inhabit better than Dylan himself. Reg owns this song, and remarked that he’d been “working on it since 1968.”
There was some talk about Lou Reed, and Reg played the intro to ‘Sweet Jane,’ but quickly changed for a last song request of ‘The Times They Are A Changin,’ which in his version was much more power-pop than folk protest. We were able to watch as Reg and Em figured out how to sign off Zoom, and again they brought us a wonderful show and a special treat. I immediately ordered Emma’s new LP!
Happy birthday, Bob.
Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Live Quarantine Show Part 13 - Element Of Light (in full)
Robyn and Emma’s show tonight focused on his 1986 Element Of Light record, recorded with his band the Egyptians. Reg was back in ‘Studio B,’ the kitchen table in their East Nashville home, with a John and Yoko calendar on the wall. As they got the tech together, as Emma does all the tech, she got it together, Robyn played ‘Ghost Ship,’ a B-side from that era that wasn’t really released until 1995 on You And Oblivion. This is a great song and Robyn played it beautifully.
Emma appeared and mentioned they had a new audio interface, and indeed the sound was much, much better than the previous streams. She also brought Perry The Lobster, the stuffed crustacean that they said “migrated from the couch.” Now it was time for Element Of Light, and Emma and Robyn both sang ‘If You Were A Priest,’ which had a bouncy, folk-pop sheen to it. Emma mentioned it “sounded like the Psychedelic Furs.” (see part 5 at tinyurl.com/zubtubby) On ‘Winchester,’ Emma sounded especially good, with Robyn saying at the end “How do you harmonize like that? It’s incredible.”
Before playing ‘Somewhere Apart,’ Robyn said the song was “Inspired by ‘Remember’ by The Plastic Ono Band.” Indeed this song was totally Lennon-esque. Instead of the piano on ‘Ted, Woody and Junior,’ Robyn turned it into a light, softly picked, gentle folkie tune. It was remarkable. Then Emma appeared with Ringo, their Scottish Fold cat with two eyes (Tubby only has one) and they discussed the next song ‘The President.’ Reg talked about the tension of the cold war and Ronald Reagan and said this was about “nostalgic presidential dread.” ‘The President’ is about Reagan’s visit to the cemetery in Bitburg, Germany where Nazi SS officers were also buried. Robyn sang in his high, Neil Young voice:
He’s standing in a cemetery inside the Western zone
I listen on the radio, I’m glad I’m not alone
I know you’re out there, I know you’re out there somewhere
I can almost hear it raining
On to side 2 of Element Of Light, Robyn played one of his finest songs, ‘Raymond Chandler Evening,’ which brings all Reg’s strengths into focus. Clear, beautiful melody, wonderful guitar, and very clever and surreal lyrics.
The surreal songs continued with ‘Bass:’
The juicy flounder and the tender chub
Will swim around you when you leave the pub
Their mouths are open and they will not shut
Unless you kiss them all behind the hut
But don't go messing with a guy like Reg
He'll leave you gurgling behind the hedge
Emma and Reg laughed their way through this one, and after he said “I think I really nailed the human condition on that one.” Next up was ‘Airscape,’ one of those truly impressive Hitchcock tunes that well transcends his influences and shows his singular songwriting genius. It was spectacular. Reg switched from his big body Gibson acoustic to his small bodied Gibson Nick Lucas model and did a sad version of ‘Never Stop Bleeding.’ As time was running out, he ended with the last track on Element Of Light, ‘Lady Waters And The Hooded One,’ a song about the plague and death, that has a very old English folk quality to it, much like ‘One Long Pair Of Eyes.’ It was really impressive to hear this whole record played acoustically. It makes you realize just how good the songs are, and sometimes they are improved in this stripped down form. Thirty-four years later, Element Of Light never sounded better.
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