|Photo courtesy of Academy Music Group |
Once again, the Zodiac shows it punches above its weight. One of the biggest bands in the world for the last 20 years showed up out of the blue last night on Cowley Road, when REM joined their old friend Robyn Hitchcock for an encore on stage upstairs at The Zodiac. They played their old favourite “Mulholland Drive” and a new song called “DJ” heard live for the first time. Michael Stipe, looking like a frail vicar reading a sermon, had the lyrics written out on a crib sheet, but the voice nevertheless sounded orchestral; you could understand why he has been filling stadiums round the world for decades. By way of contrast, less than 200 witnessed the show last night.
Peter Buck has long been a big fan of Robyn Hitchcock, and REM have rather taken Robyn under their wing, championing his cause and raising his profile, particularly in the US where he is now the darling of the college radio circuit. Peter forms part of the backing band, Venus 3, and must have broken the record for the most guitar changes on stage at the venue. These boys just play for fun.
|Pete Buck at The Zodiac by Mick Conmy|
However, the night was not about REM. Don’t think for a minute that they upstaged Robyn Hitchcock, as his hour and a half set was pure guitar power play heaven. Peter Buck is the inventor of the jangly guitar sound and his interweaving riffs and licks with Robyn took you back to The Byrds early albums. Plectrums were kept busy and effects pedals were flat out. It was almost flamenco in its complexity. Appropriately, their finale was the trippy “Eight Miles High”. Most of the songs come from his latest album “Oi Tarantula” and all sounded jaunty and upbeat, underpinned with glorious chord play and understated bass and drums. Life is so unfair, Robyn Hitchcock should by rights be as commercially popular as his more esteemed on stage collaborators as he is just as talented with a back catalogue just as deep and rich.
Robyn is one of life’s mavericks; son of a science fiction writer, sister is a sculptress, his take on life is surreal and quirky. He spouts witty offbeat observations in between numbers and his songs tell strange stories of mishaps and adventures. It’s rare to go to a gig like this when all the words of the songs are discernible. His voice although clear, is also raspy, nasal and cockney in tone, in a Wreckless Eric sort of way.
The world is a better place with oddballs like Robyn Hitchcock there to keep us entertained.