The musicians who spent most of Saturday night (October 17th, 2009) together on the Bluebird stage, none of them as they appeared on the Bluebird stage, but their photos do appear L-R in the configuration in which they stood: Abigail Washburn, Robyn Hitchcock, Rayna Gellert
After reviewing April's Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 show at length, I think folks are expecting me to review Saturday's unprecedented second Robyn show in Nashville within a calendar year. Especially the person from Winfield, Alabama, who landed on that previous entry today while searching for "robyn hitchcock bluebird review." Since I don't want to let my happenstance audience down, I'm going to oblige him/her, if he/she Googles their way back here.
So's anyways, I certainly wasn't expecting a full-on rock extravaganza like April's show, given the tininess of the of the Bluebird Cafe's stage. I did think we might get a Venus 3 member or three, and likely some Gillian Welch and David Rawlings since it was a Nashville Robyn show on what appeared to be an off night for GilNDave's various projects. It could have ended up a repeat of the Basement Tapes covers/Spooked-heavy shows that characterized Robyn's non-V3 Nashville appearances during the 2000s.
Instead, none of those people appeared and none of those things happened.
A few minutes after the listed showtime of 9:30 PM, a pair of slender women walked onstage and set up banjos and violins. I thought they might be an opening act, though the show, billed only as "An Evening With Robyn Hitchcock," listed none. But then they left the stage, and Robyn, harlequin shirt donned and acoustic guitar in hand, walked on and began the show with Olé Tarantula's "Museum of Sex." Nothing out of the ordinary solo Hitchcock show there, and Robyn said something about some "friends" joining him later, getting the crowd all a-twitter (and probably all a-Twitter) over whom might be appearing.
Robyn would play four more songs by himself, including the always-gorgeous "I Often Dream of Trains" and Welch/Rawlings' "Elvis Presley Blues." During the intro to the latter, we learned that GilNDave would be elsewhere tonight, so two likely "friends" could be ruled out then and there.
After the fifth song, "Full Moon in My Soul," he called for those "friends" to join him. The two women who set up the banjos and fiddles beforehand reappeared, picked up their respective instruments, and assumed flanking positions around Mr. Hitchcock. Then some fiddling and picking commenced, but it wasn't until Robyn began singing that I knew what they were playing: the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."
Tonight's friends were Abigail Washburn on banjo and vocals, and Rayna Gellert on violin and backing vocals. Though both looked vaguely familiar to me, especially Abigail, I didn't immediately know them, and even after post-show Googling, haven't found a project of theirs I think I've seen or heard. As far as I can figure, the connection to Robyn Hitchcock may be that both women played in the band Uncle Earl, an album of whose was produced by Robyn's sometimes-collaborator John Paul Jones (yes, that John Paul Jones).
Anyway, after Abigail and Rayna joined Robyn, the rest of the set took on a very traditional/folk feel, more so than Robyn's work with violinist Deni Bonet or even on Spooked, the album he recorded here in Nashville in 2004 with Welch/Rawlings. During this most rootsy part of the setlist, we got two, maybe three "trad."-authored songs, along with an apparent new Robyn tune ("Thank You Timegirl"?), a very traditional-sounding song that Abigail sang from which I couldn't decipher a Google-friendly lyric, and, my personal highlight of the evening, a rare sighting of the beautiful "Birds in Perspex."
For the encores, Robyn started solo again, with a cover of the Doors' "Crystal Ship," following it with a song by "another dead songwriter," Nick Drake's "River Man." Abigail and Rayna rejoined Robyn for another song that it tickled me to hear: I Often Dream of Trains' "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus," which was perfectly suited for the banjo/fiddle/acoustic guitar setup. Then it was back to just Robyn, who returned to the Jim Morrison Songbook for the last tune of the evening: "The End."
While walking out of the Bluebird and even on the drive home, I had a lingering feeling that's difficult to put into words. It wasn't disappointment, because the quality of the show was high and Robyn put his heart into his singing and playing. So it's not a case of "Do you ever feel like you've been cheated?" Not even close.
I suppose it's more like confusion: I not only didn't get what I was expecting - which is not always a bad thing and wasn't a bad thing on this particular evening - but I'm still not sure just what I got or what Robyn's intentions were. New project? Fun one-off? Two Doors covers in one show? I left with more questions than answers, but I'm still glad that I went.
Complete setlist follows:
1) Museum of Sex
2) Elvis Presley Blues (Welch/Rawlings)
3) I Often Dream of Trains
4) I'm Falling
5) Full Moon in My Soul
[Rayna and Abigail join Robyn]
6) Tomorrow Never Knows (Lennon/McCartney)
7) Thank You Timegirl (?)
8) Lowe Bonnie (trad.?)
9) Ole Tarantula
10) ?? Something that Abigail sang
11) Birds in Perspex
12) Log Cabin in the Sky (Trad.?)
13) Balloon Man
[Robyn solo again after brief encore break]
14) Crystal Ship (Doors)
15) River Man (Drake)
[rejoined by Rayna and Abigail]
16) Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus
[just Robyn again]
17) The End (Doors)