Robyn Hitchcock brings wit, surrealism, and splendor to Sellersville Theater

Robyn Hitchcock, now white-haired, played a filled Sellersville Theater on Monday night, his 61st birthday.
Robyn Hitchcock, now white-haired, played a filled Sellersville Theater on Monday night, his 61st birthday.
Posted: March 06, 2014

Robyn Hitchcock may just be the last of the great English eccentrics.

Like Kevin Ayers, Roy Harper, Robert Wyatt, and his hero, Pink Floyd fire-starter Syd Barrett, Hitchcock has forever crafted a sound - alone or with his first notable ensemble, the Soft Boys - whimsically and surrealistically literate with melodies steeped in folk traditionalism, psychedelia, and art-pop. His lyrics, sung in a gloriously nasal English accent reminiscent of a young Lennon or Bowie, express pent-up ire, frustration, mirth, and joy, while dazzling the listener/reader with their bold, odd intelligence and black humor. Far from cold intellectual exercise, this artfulness harbors genuine emotion and deep soulfulness.

The now white-haired Hitchcock has won - if not platinum sales - then truly longtime, steadfast devotees, such as those who filled the Sellersville Theater on Monday, after a snowstorm, to see and hear their hero weave intricate tapestries in an unusually intimate setting. On his 61st birthday, no less.

With an acoustic guitar and a harmonica borrowed from a local Twitter follower, Hitchcock started the night with the eerily blissful "The Abyss" and "The Wreck of the Arthur Lee," with something approaching the feel of a Jacques Brel. "The captain and all his men / Went up and jumped overboard / 'Jesus is Lord,' they cried," sang Hitchcock, in a softly soaring voice that settled on occasion into a low twang. His vocals sold each lyric with an subtle precision and impeccable timing.

Fans perked up when Hitchcock recalled "Only the Stones Remain," a breathy rarity from his Soft Boys catalog, to say nothing of his deep-voiced cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," a song about sinking beneath wisdom and touching a perfect body with the mind that could have come straight from Hitchcock's pen.

His lyrics, as mentioned, are smart and darkly absurd, as in "Queen Elvis," the haunting "I'm Only You," and the sinister yet silly "My Wife and My Dead Wife." Hitchcock's between-song patter was equally witty, with mention of "Roquefort and Gruyère and slippery Brie" before launching into "The Cheese Alarm." Above all, Hitchcock projected a well-earned dignity. As intricate as his songs are, he made certain these stripped-down versions were rich and regal.

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