By Max Stewart
English singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock has forged a very admirable position as a forefather in the alternative scene throughout his storied 40+ year career. He started by leading the widely influential band The Soft Boys, whose short run had a profound impact on bands such as R.E.M. and The Replacements, and the band’s signature jangle pop sound can still be found in the fabrics of countless modern indie rock acts.
Hitchcock then set off on a solo career and has released a far-reaching catalog of surrealist pop-rock songs over the last few decades. Part of Hitchcock’s appeal seems to be the strange and vibrant corners that his lyrics can send your mind down, from fanciful tales of trilobites, Scorpios, and all things in between. But he also has an ear for melody and memorable chord progressions, which is evident in the catchiness of tunes like “So You Think You’re In Love” and “Madonna Of The Wasps.”
In the fall of 2022, Hitchcock made his way to Georgia for a run of two sold out acoustic shows at the famous Eddie’s Attic in Decatur (just outside Atlanta), soon after Mike Mills of R.E.M. sat in with him for a show at the 40 Watt in Athens, GA.
Immediately off the bat at the second show in Decatur, it was striking how brilliant guitar player he was in the intimacy of the acoustic environment. Sometimes singer-songwriters stick to the major chords in an acoustic show, but unsurprisingly Hitchcock really pushes the envelope in providing some amazing solo guitar performances. At the risk of getting too in the weeds for non-guitarists, his technique of moving his left index finger across the fretboard while maintaining a barre chord was top tier musicianship. In fact, all of the unique chords that Hitchcock plays have a warm feel that immediately draw listeners in.
Hitchcock’s in-between-song banter has certainly become famous amongst his legions of fans, as he will tee up songs with far-out and intriguing tales that are equal parts bizarre and hilarious. His latest release, SHUFFLEMANIA!, is one of the strongest of his career, something extremely rare for a musician of his status and tenure. “The Shuffle Man” in an acoustic form really highlights its punk ethos, and the album version actually features Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs on a variety of instruments. It was a delight also seeing him sit at the piano to perform the haunting and emotive “Nocturne (Prelude).”
His longtime partner, singer-songwriter Emma Swift, joined onstage for some songs towards the end (including a fantastic version of “One Long Pair of Eyes”), which was a real delight as their voices interweaved beautifully. Overall, seeing Hitchcock live is always an awe-inspiring night for any fan of idiosyncratic yet approachable musicality. We look forward to more of the eccentric and colorful tunes from Hitchcock in the years to come.