Brighton Dome, Sat Feb 11th
Robyn Hitchcock, as we’ve noted before here at Lucid Frenzy, has a particular interest in evoking a four-in-the-morning feeling. (Something said in Ye Olde Print Days, so I can’t link to it – you’ll just have to trust that I said it!) It’s the point where, while you may theoretically be awake, your brain decides to disregard all that and act as if it was dreaming. Logic becomes as floppy as one of Dali’s clocks, boundaries blur and things morph into one another. In short, it’s when we’re at our most receptive. So when he plays, that’s the time he’s striving to convince us it is, and never mind any badgering from that contraption on your wrist.
And what are platform nights about but assortments you never expected to see, associations you wouldn’t normally make? So, I would guess, Hitchcock gathered five of his musical compatriots to see if they could gang up on rationalism a little? We had Martin and Eliza Carthy (folksters both known to this parish), singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb and “American soul diva” Krystal Warren. (Nope, I’d never heard of that last one either.) Laureamont had famously described surrealism as “the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.” This was ‘the chance collision of a folk ballad with American soul in the Dome theatre.’ So... what happened when this pack started permanently reshuffling before our eyes?
In short, it was a night of great highlights. You could make it sound fabulous through selective YouTube clips. (Something which in fact is soon coming up.) The royalist connotations of ‘palace’ were perhaps deserved with both Carthys aboard. I had previously observed KT Tunstall had a gloriously husky voice, but had tended to think of her as One Of Those People On Rotation On Jools Holland. Yet I was set to thinking I should check out her music more. Krystal Warren had a shaky first song, but got better from therein. I’d seen Giant Sand before and hadn’t liked Howe Gelb then, there felt something affected and show-offy about him which he hadn’t shaken off since. But that’s perhaps three-and-a-half out of five, not a bad innings.
But I’m not sure if this palatial crew ever actually floated. Hitchcock once described his ambition for his first band, the Soft Boys, to be like playing with plasticine that still kept its different colours. (As any Seventies child can tell you, the stuff soon turned sludgy brown.) This night the plasticine kept it’s pristine separate colours too well, and failed to mix together much at all.
Instead it rather fell into units. And when, for example, the Carthys were playing their songs, or Hitchcock his, you’d get into that and not want to leave again for the next thing. Often the less natural pairings failed to spark. Admittedly, I was no Howe Gelb fan to begin with but his pairing with Martin Carthy in particular lacked chemistry.
There were, we should concede, points where the unexpected collisions did throw up strange new crossbreeds. One such moment was when Tunstall sang ’Shanty of the Whale’, a haunting hunting song told from the whale’s point of view, a cappella with the two Carthys. Another was when she launched into a spirited version of ’I Want You Back.’ (Though that was partly unexpected as Green Gartside had just been brought on as a special guest, yet was reduced to the odd backing vocal.)
Perhaps there were inherent obstacles to negotiate. Four in the morning may be a difficult feeling to evoke beneath the lights of so large a venue, no matter how much dry ice you waft. And platform nights have a tendency to feel bitty. They’re a live version of a format better suited to radio or TV. When the indie landfill band comes on Jools Holland I make a cup of tea, I flick through the Radio Times or some other thing. I am home and have distractions to hand. With live events I want to drink deep of something, not just taste it.
So...is this plethora of YouTube clips a tribute to the number of highpoints the gig had, or an admission it lacked for defining moments? You the reader decide!
The classic ’Uncorrected Personality Traits’ from the Barbican gig:
Eliza Carthy keeping up the folk corner, also from the Barbican:
’I Want You Back’ from Glasgow:
I couldn’t find a YouTube vid for ’Shanty of the Whale’ from this tour, this is Tunstall from Union Chapel in London last year. (Sung, it would seem, from the pulpit.)
Coming soon! Yes I know I’ve been perpetually promising a post about the Degas exhibition. (Which I expect everyone has guessed I meant by those supposedly humorous references to “ballet.”) Hopelessly overdue, it is incoming - honest! (Even if I’m not too sure when...)