Jon Brion 

Robyn Hitchcock 


chris franz

Subject: Jon Brion & Robyn Hitchcock 14-Nov-97

Indeed, Robyn Hitchcock did make an appearance for about a 45 minute setlast night at the Largo. Hope I didn't scare anyone away with my frantic warnings yesterday...

The scene: a rather nice smallish restaurant/bar in West Hollywood. 

Those in attendance seemed split into two camps: those who adore Jon Brion and knew little about this Robyn guy... and the other way around. 

First up was Jon. He played bizarre medleys of tunes on his guitar, switching to various other instruments here and there (piano, synthesizer, other guitars, and some things I'm at a loss to identify). 

After a while a band came out and he did about three songs with the full band.

All the Robyn fans I talked to there just didn't "get" Jon Brion, in much the same way that people just don't "get" Robyn. But there were some really hard-core Brion fans in attendance, so there must be something there.

Anyway... out came Robyn, in green trousers and purple button-up shirt. 

The set, (from memory, so there may be a few mistakes)


Gene Hackman

Cheese Alarm

<enter Andy Metcalfe (!) (in black jeans and unbuttoned orange shirt over

a black t-shirt), Jon Brion (on piano and keyboards), and Ethan the

vacant-eyed drummer>

Chinese Bones


Vegetation and Dimes ("this is a very LA song")




Cold Turkey


The thing about this is that these four had never rehearsed together. Jon and Ethan did not know the songs. And the whole time we all (and I think Robyn himself) were cringing in fear of what Jon would do next.

Every tune after they came on was prefaced by Robyn telling Jon what key it was in, and Andy doing some coaching of Ethan. Likewise, at the end of each song, Andy was in the back doing something elaborate to let Ethan know to stop, and Robyn would try somehow to grab Jon's attention.

So what do they play? Of course, the RH song with the most abrupt ending of them all: "Bass." And sure enough, the piano didn't stop when everything else did.

In all fairness, Jon did do a creditable job, and all of us there

concluded that if the quartet had a chance to practice, they could put on a kickin' show. As it was, Chinese Bones and Lysander had a vaguely different feel from what we're accusomed to, and there were a few slip-ups... but all in all it worked. These concerns probably are what caused them to switch to covers after a while. Cold Turkey utterly rocked, and featured the best guitar work I've seen Robyn do.

Jon, in introducing Robyn, said that he was in LA putting the finishing touches on his film. Other rumors heard last night were that Robyn and Andy were in the studio yesterday recording songs for the next album, and that Jon will produce a half dozen songs on Robyn's next album.

Tonight should be all Robyn; stay tuned.


- --Chris


Mon, 17 Nov 1997

From: chris franz

Subject: the Largo show 15-Nov-97


Okay, first things first:

shirt: black with big white polka dots. Black trousers.

First set:



Gene Hackman

Devil's Coachman

Serpent At The Gates of Wisdom

Dead Wife

<enter Jon Brion on xylophone and Allok Ditte (?) on tambas>

I Feel Beautiful

Queen Elvis <Jon: piano>

Cheese Alarm <Jon: keyboards>

<exit Jon and Allok>

I'm Only You

Glass Hotel

Beautiful Girl

I Something You

Clean Steve

<enter Jon Brion and Grant Phillips>

Nietzsche's Way <Jon: drums; Grant: xylophone>


I Often Dream Of Trains <Jon: keyboards; Grant: acoustic>

We Are The Underneath <Jon: drums; Grant: bass>

A great, well-delivered set. Robyn was relaxed and enjoying himself, the songs with a band were tight, and the new songs were great. The new songs: "I Feel Beautiful" is a gentle, touchy-feely love song which was introduced by Robyn saying "This is a song that Jon and I just built." 

Those in attendance could see some JB influence, in a way I can't quite quantify... the main line "I feel beautiful because you love me" had me cringe at first, but the overall effect was rather haunting. We Are The Underneath is just a good solid rock song.

Half an hour after this set, Jon Brion reappeared and said that Robyn had asked him to go sing a few songs. Jon interpreted that as "Go kill some time so I can have some wine and cheese." Anyway, this time everything Jon touched was golden, in my book. He did a couple of fun songs, then Robyn, Grant, and Ethan the drummer materialized and, with Jon, started up with a Dylan song.

setlist ( possibly incomplete)

The End

She Belongs To Me

It's Only Rock'n'Roll

Don't Let Me Down

Absolutely Sweet Marie

Arnold Layne

The Hook (is this right, GLB fans?)

Improv (hair)

Improv (Robyn on drums - erm...)

Clear Spot

Break On Through (sort of...almost)


After four or five songs, Robyn talked Grant into singing a Grant Lee Buffalo tune (with Grant switching to guitar, Robyn to bass, Jon to drums, and Ethan going for more beer). This they did. Then, while sitting and playing bass, Robyn made up a song about hair ("C'mon hair/grow on out of my body/c'mon hair/grow on out of my soul"). Many times, Robyn seemed to get ready to sing a new line, when Grant would hit a piercing note on the guitar, and a slghtly irritated-looking Robyn would have to wait another measure or two. But they kept on, and it worked.

Then Grant agreed to make up a tune, with Jon moving to keyboards... and Robyn on drums!

My eyes went out on stalks when Robyn stepped behind the drum set. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd see that. He started making some noise that vaguely resembled the percussion in Devo's version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," at a slower tempo. The others struggled to come up with appropriate accompaniment.... a metronome Robyn was not.... and the result was, well, musically forgettable, but visually forever burned into the cerebrum of all present.

Robyn tried to talk Grant into playing drums, to no avail, so they went back to a more conventional arrangement (with Ethan reappearing) to complete the set. Everything beyond this point was gravy, and we lapped it up, happy as clams. The only thing I remember offhand from this is Arnold Layne; if someone did write down what was played, I'd love to see that list. Finally it came to a close at about 1:30. 

About two and a half hours of music in all, Robyn letting it all hang out at the end of his little US trip. This was a treat.


Date: Mon, 17 Nov 1997

From: Eb

Subject: Re: the Largo show 15-Nov-97


>A great, well-delivered set. Robyn was relaxed and enjoying himself, the

>songs with a band were tight, and the new songs were great. The new

>songs: "I Feel Beautiful" is a gentle, touchy-feely love song which was

>introduced by Robyn saying "This is a song that Jon and I just built."

>Those in attendance could see some JB influence, in a way I can't quite

>quantify... the main line "I feel beautiful because you love me" had me

>cringe at first, but the overall effect was rather haunting. We Are The

>Underneath is just a good solid rock song.


Yes, "I Feel Beautiful" was excellent. And "We Are the Underneath" (written in response to Diana's death, so he said) was interesting -- definitely an exception to my complaint about Robyn's songs being cut from the same janglepop cloth over and over. That one sounded more like the early, jagged Soft Boys stuff. Neat. But wasn't there another new song? The one that was all about Los Angeles?

Also, I wouldn't call the band "tight," but I think that was a PLUS. <shrug>

Another quick comment: I was a bit dismayed by "I Something You," "I'm in Love with a Beautiful Girl" and "Clean Steve" all in a row, because those are all kinda "trashy" songs to me. Really generic musically, and pretty silly lyrically. I could've done without those.

Both Sydney and I agreed that Robyn's voice sounded tired. Oh well. But overall, the first set was quite good. And not so much of that indulgent "storytelling" either. There was one bit which started off well, comparing the breaks between songs to the gaps between cars on a train. But then that deteriorated into a comparison with sausage links, and some really silly stuff about passengers inside the sausage links waving through the windows and being fed fishfood...blah blah blah. Of course, the audience tittered at just about anything. There was another ramble before the "Los Angeles song," which was really weak. He said something about how if it was a truly a Los Angeles song, it would be covered with a membrane and sorta fade in and out...yeah, whatever you say, dude. The audience laughed loudly when Robyn said that Los Angeles and New York were "different." Hoo-eee, whatta punchline.


Some other cover songs I remember: 

The Doors' "The End," 

the RollingStones' "It's Only Rock & Roll," 

Dylan's "She Belongs To Me" (or was that

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit?" ummm...) 

and "Absolutely Sweet Marie," the

Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" 

and Captain Beefheart's "Clear Spot

Some of the covers were good ("Arnold Layne "It's Only Rock & Roll"), others weren't. I'm not particularly impressed with Robyn's skills as a cover artist. He picks great material, certainly, but his covers rarely match the originals, IMO (perhaps because he picks such fantastic songs). For instance: "The End" was pretty lame, and totally lacking in emotional force. The original has power and drama -- in Robyn's version, he was just bouncing up and down and wiggling his ass through the whole song. True! Very shallow interpretation (though I liked Jon Brion's piano-playing). Andwhen the song started, I assumed that RH would go off on some spontaneous imagery ramble during the freeform middle part, like Morrison did -- instead he just dutifully recycled the original lines, except for a sick little twist on the Oedipal section. (In his version, the father didn't mind being killed: "OK, whatever you like. You are my son, after all." Or something to that effect.) And I'm always struck by how much less moving Robyn's Dylan covers are than the originals. There's something about Robyn's "rock" voice which really flattens out the emotional impact of asong. Maybe it's because his voice is so dry and deadpan, and incapable of communicating a smile. Maybe it's because he sings all with his throat and nose, instead of his chest and abdomen. I don't know. But when Dylan sings those songs, I feel the lyrics. When Robyn does, I don't. I just listen to the pop hooks. And by the time that Robyn let Grant Lee Phillips sing lead, the creative spark was leaving the stage fast. The last 30 minutes were pretty dismal, if you ask me.

And yes, brave Sydney spent the whole night with the fearsome, bilious Eb by her side. What a trooper. ;)

Ever a bundle of joy,



Subject: more Largo

Since I get the digest, I didn't really want to duplicate what everyone else had to say.

I thought the first set was near perfect. 'I Feel Beautiful' was very good. Note to the guitar playing fegs: 

Robyn used a capo on the second fret and played without a pick - just strumming with his thumb.

'Nietzche's Way' sounded a lot like the Victoria Williams song 'Nature's Way'.

If I heard it correctly, the reason that Robyn was in LA was to record some songs in the studio. He had mentioned that Grant Lee Phillips hit his head on a glass door in the studio. Grant just about knocked me out of my chair when he came running to the stage - slammed right into me.

Jon Brion is quite a talented musician. I didn't 'get' his style though. During the second set it was fun watching him play piano with his left hand and drink a beer with his right hand.

The second set flucuated between exciting and excrutiating. My wife found it extremely excrutiating. I did like their version of 'The End'.

I saw someone with a tape deck and a microphone sitting on a table in the 

front, so a tape or two are floating around....Can I get one?



Date: Tue, 18 Nov 1997

From: Eb

Subject: Re: more Largo


The guy taping in front was actually Robyn's publicist at Warner Brothers!

So good luck getting a copy from him. ;)



Subject: More Largo

Thanks, Chris, for the thoughtful review! And it was great to share a table with Eb and see fellow Fegs Griffith and Dan there. :)

<< The new songs: "I Feel Beautiful" is a gentle, touchy-feely love song

which was

introduced by Robyn saying "This is a song that Jon and I just built." >>

I *loved* this song. The female point of view? Touchy-feely, yes, but also touchING and romantic. I confess, I swooned. I wonder if anyone noticed.
"I feel beautiful because you love me. I've been waiting for you for

centuries...waiting on the festival pier for decades...

" I CAN'T WAIT to hear this one again. 


Second set was as follows:


The End

Love Minus Zero

It's Only Rock and Roll

Don't Let Me Down

Sweet Marie <Robyn said, "This may be bad, but it'll be ten times better

than the last time I heard Dylan do it!>

Arnold Layne

Fuzzy (?) (Grant Lee Phillips)

Robyn's song about 'Hair'

Grant's song about a Ouiji Board

Clear Spot

<<Then Grant agreed to make up a tune, with Jon moving to keyboards... and

Robyn on drums!>>


This was the Ouiji Board song and it was hysterical!

Eb adds:


<<But wasn't there another new song? The one that was

all about Los Angeles?>>


From Chris' setlist, this was Nietzsche's Way. "Los Angeles Police come in many flavors..." Is this right?


<<And yes, brave Sydney spent the whole night with the fearsome, bilious Eb

by her side. What a trooper. ;)>>


I'd tell the truth, Eb, but I might spoil your image. ;)

A couple of other show delights...

At one point Robyn said with his dry delivery, "I've got to watch my voice.I *am* 44. You can use your age as an excuse for absolutely anything."

Robyn's trademark, geographically-tailored Clean Steve lyrics... "You could've knocked him down with a subway system, if you'd built one."

Angelinos know what we're talking about here! :) In Mill Valley it was"Marin County", in Seattle "the Space Needle", right?

After Robyn's solo set, he yells out, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Rick Wakeman and

Carlos Santana! (Somehow this loses something on my screen here, but trust me, it was a *funny* line!)

In all, a wonderful show!



"Julie Burton"


Okay, I will once again emerge from Lurker-dom to offer a few thoughts on 

Saturday's Largo show.

I agree with Chris that it was a truly great show. I have seen Robyn (with and without the Egyptians and various side musicians) at least a dozen times prior to the shows this past weekend. I would have to say that this was the most memorable show that I have experienced. The Friday night show was fun, and it was great to see Andy again. However, Saturday's show was definitely the loosest that I have ever seen Robyn - he really seemed to be having a lot of fun up there. It was especially nice to see and hear Robyn's interaction with his "guests" that night, most notably Grant Lee Phillips from Grant Lee Buffalo. If any of you out there are not familiar with GLB, I would very highly recommend their first album, "Fuzzy." It is brilliant. The two GLB songs performed during the second set on Saturday, "The Hook" and "Fuzzy," are from this album.

As for the new song, it is definitely "Nietzche's Way," as I was the lucky Recipient of the setlist that night, which was apparently written by Robyn's manager, Steve (who for some reason makes all of his E's and N's backwards). 

This list only covered the first set, however. They seemed to have made up most of the second set as they went along, which obviously added to the overall spontaneity of the evening. I will try to post the complete setlist soon...


(who still can't believe she saw Robyn play the drums!) 

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