Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Live Online for Nashville Tornado Relief Part 2
We love to blog about the shows, films, music, tv, books and even the occasional art exhibit we see. In the days of social distancing precautions, artists are moving their works to streaming platforms and Zub is going there with them.
Two of my favorite performers are back. I already talked about the first show by Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift for a fundraiser for their East Nashville community (tinyurl.com/zubregem). This was the second show in the series, on the StageIt streaming platform. Robyn and Emma played on the couch in their house, as before. These shows are incredibly can-do and public-spirited, and also make-do as artists cobble together presenting shows from what they have on hand. So, the streaming connection was pretty poor as the world attends Zoom meetings with each other and kids rewatch Frozen 2 and gobble up bandwidth; there were a number of glitches, and cut outs. But we all soldier on in trying times and band together at virtual shows.
The couple has a vast stuffed menagerie they incorporate into these shows. Robyn and Emma showed off their stuffed lobster, Perry, and Robyn welcomed us to the “Swiftcock show.” This night, they were mostly playing requests, and the ten songs in this show were some of Robyn and Emma’s best, with some of Robyn’s more whimsical, surreal songs. They opened with a bouncy ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Gene Hackman.’ Robyn was playing his pearloid neck Nick Lucas model Gibson acoustic, and it was set up better for sound this time, not so drowned out by the vocals as in the first show. Reg mentioned “I wrote this song in 1997” when he got to the Andi McDowell reference in the lyric. It was a funny, fun start to the set.
To introduce ‘Antwoman,’ they showed Radcliff the stuffed ant who was “only missing one leg,” and launched into a fine version of this Jewels For Sophia song, Emma’s vocals really adding to the arrangement. Em apologised for the poor Wi-Fi, and with “Here’s a song in D,” they did a lovely version of ‘Madonna Of The Wasps,’ one of Reg’s strongest tunes. Perry, the aforementioned lobster, and Jermaine, the female stuffed Koala, were shown off, and we got shirt buying tips: “ Buy a nice loud shirt from a local business,” and “bespoke is the way.” Emma went to get tea and Robyn played ‘Trilobite’ from Mossy Liquor, an odd, alliterative song that I really love.
‘Listening To The Higsons’ in a stripped down arrangement was really groovy, and they closed it out with a good bit of Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’ (!) Next up was the sparkling ‘One Long Pair Of Eyes’ (a very Dylan influenced song) from Queen Elvis, Emma again adding a lovely backing vocal. The duo seemed to really be having fun and were definitely less nervous than the first show. Em and Reg had a long discussion of Reg’s hair - with Reg wishing he could have “David Bowie hair.” Emma wished Robyn would go back to his 1986 mullet hairdo. Robyn switched to a small mahogany wood Gibson acoustic to sing a tribute to the recently passed Bill Rieflin (who played in Robyn’s band The Venus 3 as well as King Crimson). He said Bill was “even darker than I am” and dedicated the song to friends who have died from cancer. He then did an astounding version of ‘Underground Sun’ from Ole! Tarantula, singing “I feel with you, even though I know you’re not with me.”
Continuing with the death and loss theme, Robyn played ‘The Speed Of Things from Moss Elixir:
You held my hand when I was crying
You were allergic to bee stings
I threw some earth onto your coffin
And thought about the speed of things
I kissed you by the clear, cold river
I felt like I was growing wings
But I grew horns and found another
Oh, a girl to share the speed of things
Emma returned and they did a powerful new song of hers, which I believe was called ‘No Happy Endings.’ She has a beautiful voice and this brand new song sounds like a great introduction to a new Emma Swift record. They ended up with about half of ‘A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations, Briggs,” scooping up Tubby, their one-eyed Scottish Fold cat, for a cameo. It was a wonderful time despite the Internet issues.
Our Robyn Podcast is at tinyurl.com/zubrobyn and a review of a prior live stream show at tinyurl.com/zubreglive
Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift Online Live From Home Sweet Quarantine Part 3
This is the third review I’ve written of Robyn and Emma streaming a show from home. The first is at (tinyurl.com/zubregem). These first two shows, through the StageIt streaming platform, were fundraisers for the East Nashville TN community where Robyn and Emma live. Tonight’s show was called ‘Live from Sweet Home Quarantine’ and tonight’s money went to Robyn and Emma directly.
Tonight, on the couch at their house, they launched into ‘Ride’ from Perspex Island. Robyn played his small body Gibson mahogany guitar and his and Emma’s voices were strong together. They seem to improve with each show. Then straight into The Soft Boys ‘Only The Stones Remain,’ with some spoken asides: Robyn - “Tubby is behind the rooter,” Emma - “It’s called a router!” Then later in the song, “He’s gone back into the kitchen.” Em asked Robyn what he wanted to play next, and he replied “something dismal.”
They did ‘No, I Don’t Remember Guildford,‘ a Dylan like tale of a relationship dissolution from his Jewels For Sophia LP. The breaking of the songs into just three elements (acoustic guitar, two vocals) seemed to split this beautiful melody into solitary, glittering gems. At the end, Emma commented “Oh yeah, that was dismal.” There was talk of this song being one of her favorites, then Perry the stuffed lobster appeared. Robyn was drinking his tea from a mug celebrating the marriage of British Royals Anne and Mark in 1973. Emma remarked that they have “terrible taste in crockery” but like to collect “shitty royal crockery.” Reg pointed out that “The Royals collect our stuff.” He said something about Prince Charles having an EYE T-shirt. These two are nothing but charming.
Then then rolled out another magnificent Hitchcock tune, ‘Heaven’ from Fegmania! His guitar wasn’t quite loud enough but it was not a real issue. Afterwards Reg said that was “Just Like Janis Joplin and Rick Danko,” which somehow led to a discussion of Bryan Ferry and his hair quiff gel, his sharp pyjamas, and his Earl Grey tea. Robyn switched guitars and they did Joni Mitchell’s ‘Amelia,’ where Emma sang lead and just knocked it out. Robyn played solo next while Em got tea, and did a new (unrecorded) song called ‘Spangle Rock’ that mentioned Buddy Holly, Jim (Roger) McGuinn (when his name was still Jim), and Tom Petty among others.
It was already encore time, Robyn dedicated the next song to Matthew Seligman, the Soft Boys bassist, who apparently has the virus. He then did an exquisite version of ‘Chinese Bones’ from Globe Of Frogs, with a sweet melody tied to a Dyan-esque lyric:
Watching Romeo dissolve I was tempted to join him
By the mirror of the lake where the statues unfurled
I had never seen a man so abuse his reflection
As the light shines through your Chinese bones
Watching Juliet unrobe I would hasten toward her
But around her feet I sat that her serpent was curled
And her eyeballs had rolled up so her pupils had vanished
And the light shines through your Chinese bones
There was also a new verse added about Peter Sellers(!). Em brought their one eyed Scottish Fold cat, Tubby, into frame. Robyn mentioned that he (Tubby) “hasn’t been flying his missions” in his Tubby biplane, and the duo mentioned they’ve been doing some home recording. The next two songs were a bit more upbeat, ‘Saturday Groovers’ and ‘Ole! Tarantula!’ during which Reg flubbed a line, and hilariously played harmonica (as Emma held it) the wrong way around. Perry made a final appearance, and they mentioned an upcoming show would be “All Bob Dylan.” They closed out with Roxy Music’s ‘Oh Yeah (On The Radio)’ from their Flesh And Blood record.
Another magical evening with Robyn and Emma. They cheer me up, and the music is exceptional. Thanks, you two!
Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Smith - Live From Sweet Home Quarantine - The Social Distancin' Bob Dylan Part 4
Tonight was the fourth installment of Robyn and Emma Swift streaming from their home on the StageIt platform (www.stageit.com). Tonight’s show was billed as an all-Dylan show. I have never been much of a Dylan fan, but in the live Robyn review (tinyurl.com/zubreglive) I wrote:
Here’s another thing about Robyn Hitchcock. He is a true Dylan acolyte. I myself have never been a big Dylan fan. I understand his importance but I don’t really dig his sound. Robyn always does a Dylan cover, and they are always amazing. He gives the tunes a gravitas, a sense of mystery and melody that are only hinted at. Last year in Asheville, he opened the set with ‘Not Dark Yet,’ which he made sound like the best song ever written. If you’re like me (and you’ve seen plenty of artists do shitty Dylan covers) I encourage you to find a copy of Robyn Sings!, a two disc set of all Dylan covers by Reg. It’s amazing.
After some pleasantries, Dylan talk, and Robyn dubbing Dylan “the matrix where it all begins and ends,” Robyn and Emma were quick out of the gate with ‘Shelter From The Storm’ from Blood On The Tracks, their voices strong and powerful. They mentioned that they were playing mostly Dylan requests, and also a tornado watch was on right now in Nashville. Stuffed animal pals Jermaine (the female koala) and Perry (the lobster) made a quick appearance. They did an almost bouncy version of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ from The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, with Emma sounding super singing solo on a few verses.
Reg and Em talked of John Prine’s passing, and did a touching version of Prine’s ‘Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness,’after which Robyn remembered Hal Wilmer, the Lou Reed producer and Saturday Night Live music executive, who also just passed. As they talked about playing “cheery” Dylan songs, Robyn said “No matter how dark it gets, it still remains relevant.” They then did another Blood On The Tracks song, ‘Simple Twist Of Fate,’ which Emma sang solo, bringing to it a soulful take. Emma went to get tea, and Robyn played “My favorite song In the world,” ‘Visions Of Johanna’ from Blonde On Blonde. This sprawling, almost Biblical song was given a great, slow interpretation by Robyn, slowed down and savored, not spitting out the lyrics (like Dylan) and bringing a strong melody to the party.
Describing the next song as “a follow up to ‘Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands,’ Reg did ‘I’m Not There’ from The Basement Tapes. Emma returned and could not find their cats, Tubby and Ringo, but did have tea and Quacky the plastic duck. Both Robyn and Emma sang all of ‘Lay Lady Lay’ from Nashville Skyline, a song in which you can really hear Dylan’s influence on Robyn’s songwriting. Next up was ‘Just Like A Woman,’ with a very pretty (!) arrangement where Emma and Reg sang all of the song in unison. They closed the show with another The Basement Tapes song, ‘Open The Door, Richard’ which ran over time, and the stream cut off.
Another great show. The streaming issues have improved, and these two are so talented and funny. I understand the importance of Bob Dylan. Watching the movie Don’t Look Back was revelatory, I recommend it highly if you haven’t seen it. But I never can get my head around the sound of Dylan’s music. To see artists like Robyn and Emma show us the beauty in Dylan’s music is a wonderful experience. Robyn especially seemed happy to be playing songs by his hero, and that feeling was infectious.
Open the door, Robyn!