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Live Review: Robyn Hitchcock at Old Town School of Folk Music • Chicago

| May 6, 2024

Robyn Hitchcock

Old Town School of Folk Music

Chicago, IL

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Reviewed by Jeff Elbel

Pop surrealist Robyn Hitchcock performed the second of a two-night stand at the Old Town School of Folk Music on a rain-soaked Saturday night. The career-spanning setlist included many requests coordinated via Hitchcock’s social media accounts, ensuring a mix of deep cuts and fan favorites as well as Hitchcock’s choices from recent albums Shufflemania and Life After Infinity. Key influences for Hitchcock’s brand of psychedelic folk, including Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan, were amplified via the solo acoustic presentation. The generous performance in the Old Town School’s Mauer Concert Hall included 26 songs and ran past the two-hour mark.

The set was bookended with Hitchcock’s biggest radio singles with former backing band The Egyptians, opening with “Balloon Man” from 1988’s Globe of Frogs. Modern Rock and MTV hit “So You Think You’re in Love” from Perspex Island appeared just before the show’s conclusion. Hitchcock translated the band arrangements with his nimble fingerstyle playing.

Hitchcock kept the audience engaged with stories about songs that revealed details and often veered into off-kilter flights of imaginative word association. The Dylan-ish “The Shuffle Man” was announced as “a true story from the golden age of network television.” “Century” was described as a song that Bruce Springsteen would have written for Tom Petty. It was preceded by a tale of growing up in Surrey, UK, and playing in World War II bomb sites. Eventually, the story moved into an anecdote naming Roy Orbison as the first musician to bring his shower from the USA in 1964. “This intro is way longer than the song,” Hitchcock admitted as he began playing his guitar.

Crowd favorites during the main set included “Madonna of the Wasps” and the Soft Boys’ “Queen of Eyes.” “N. Y. Doll” was based upon a 2005 documentary film of the same name about the life of New York Dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane. The bassist led a star-crossed life post-Dolls, with a fleeting moment of triumphant redemption shortly before passing away in 2004.

One special request was played for a couple’s anniversary. “See what you make of it when you hear it,” said Hitchcock as he began playing “My Wife and My Dead Wife.” Shufflemania’s track “Raymond and the Wires” was dedicated to Hitchcock’s father. The song centered upon memories as an 11-year-old boy riding a double-decker trolley bus together.

Hitchcock moved to a baby grand piano for a trio of songs including “Flavour of Night” and “Ghost in Sunlight.” With its bouncing cadence, “The Man Who Invented Himself” was dedicated to Monty Python alum Eric Idle. Hitchcock answered requests for “52 Stations” and the angelic “Airscape,” and played “1970 in Aspic” for comedian and opening act Eugene Merman.

“This is a protest song against human nature,” said Hitchcock in the preamble to the Soft Boys’ evergreen “I Wanna Destroy You.” “I wrote this son in 1979 and amazingly, it hasn’t made any difference,” he drolly added.

Merman joined Hitchcock on stage for loony banter while announcing the transition between the main set and the encore. Despite a failed wireless mic, Merman quickly adapted and launched several zingers. He called upon his improvisational skills while crediting Chicago as the birthplace of Second City and the motherload of improv, noting that the public address system was invented by fascists, anyhow. Merman and Hitchcock traded lines in Shakespearean English. At one point, Hitchcock wondered whether Shakespeare also had to contend with flat batteries in his microphone.

Hitchcock’s encore included the twisted affection of “Love” from debut solo album Black Snake Dîamond Röle and concluded with the wry Shufflemania album closer “One Day (It’s Being Scheduled).” Following hopeful statements including “The human race will not be run by bullies one day” and “One day the color of your skin won’t be the great divide,” Hitchcock delivered the punch line. “Don’t hold your breath; it’s being scheduled,” he sang, stopping abruptly and bidding the crowd farewell.

Set List:

Balloon Man

The Shuffle Man


Madonna of the Wasps

New York Doll

Wax Doll

Saturday Groovers

The Wreck of the Arthur Lee

Full Moon in My Soul

My Wife and My Dead Wife

Raymond and the Wires

I’m Only You

Flavour of Night

The Man Who Invented Himself

Ghost in Sunlight

Celestial Transgression

Autumn Sunglasses

52 Stations

Beautiful Girl

Queen of Eyes

1970 in Aspic

I Wanna Destroy You





So You Think You’re in Love

One Day (It’s Being Scheduled)

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