Robyn Hitchcock & The Nashville Crawdads

Robyn Hitchcock & The Nashville Crawdads
Belcourt Theater, Nashville
Sunday, March 18, 2007

I was terribly excited when I saw that Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 were going to be playing the Belcourt. I'd seen Robyn four times before, but each of those shows were acoustic outings. I was eagerly anticipating seeing him fronting a rock band, especially the one responsible for his best album in 20 years,
Ole! Tarantula. So I have to admit that my heart sank a little when I saw the billing change to Robyn Hitchcock & The Nashville Crawdads a couple of weeks ago.

It was hard to be disappointed once the show started though. The show started with Robyn playing "Belltown Ramble" solo, and one by one the band came out and joined him... Peter Buck (R.E.M.) on 12 string guitar, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on guitar and vocals, Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger) singing backing vocals, and finally the least heralded but arguably most talented member of Led Zepplin, John Paul Jones on mandolin.

Understandably the setlist leaned heavily on Robyn's last two albums, since those were the ones that most of the band had actually played on, but there were a few songs from his extensive catalog thrown in. "Balloon Man" sounded great with the folksy arrangement, as did "Acid Bird" and "Brenda's Iron Sledge." We were also treated to several relatively obscure Bob Dylan covers, including "Tiny Montgomery," "Copper Kettle," and "Queen Jane Approximately."

My biggest fear was that doing another show with Welch and Rawlings would basically mean a repeat of the show the three of them did two years ago (almost to the day) at the Belcourt. Even though there were some holdovers from that set (Welch's "Elvis Presley Blues" and "Look At Miss Ohio," as well as the medley of Dylan's "Lo And Behold" and The Talking Head's "Life During Wartime"), they kept things from sounding like a rerun. Even the songs from their collaboration
Spooked sounded fresh with the additional instrumentation.

Of course, the show also featured several of Hitchcock's trademark stream of consciousness song introductions. Anyone who's ever seen him live knows that the monologues are just as entertaining as the songs themselves. The usual topics of sex, food and death were of course covered, but my favorite was his tale of getting late night calls from the President quoting lines from Dirty Harry movies.

The show definitely had the feel of something special. Apart from Buck, who was fairly subdued most of the time, everyone was visibly excited to be playing with one another. Toward the end of the two hour concert, it became obvious that they were going beyond their rehearsed setlist, as they started huddling before songs to plot out chord changes for a few last minute additions, including a cover of The Grateful Dead's "Candyman." I still haven't heard Robyn fronting a rock band, but after the show I saw Sunday night, I'm happy to wait a while longer.

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - "(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs" (mp3) from Ole! Tarantula
Robyn Hitchcock - "Creeped Out" (mp3) from Spooked

And just for fun, here is Peter Buck playing another Hitchcock song with a different singer.

R.E.M. - "Arms Of Love" (mp3) from the Man On The Moon single

photo by Matt Biddulph


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