As we locked up our ride and made for Mercy Lounge last Thursday evening, The Spin took a moment to appreciate the little nip the air had taken on following the afternoon thunderstorm. If the cool temperature and high humidity whipped up some London-like fog, all the more appropriate for a set from England's ever-pleasant Robyn Hitchcock. Upstairs, the cabaret tables were in the middle of the floor, and Tim Hibbs, The 5 Spot's go-to Two-Dollar Tuesday DJ, blasted the deep cuts while we searched for a spot amid the 40 or so other patrons.
With a list of Hitchcock's known associates ranging from neo-folk stars Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings to post-roots-rockers The Minus 5 and a catalog of songs deep and varied enough to rival his hero Bob Dylan, his shows are tough to predict — and that's the way we like it. The bare stage indicated that the performance would be intimate and predominantly acoustic, in sharp contrast to Hitchcock's most recent album, the electronic-tinged Love From London. Around 8:30, Hitchcock appeared onstage in one of his trademark oversized shirts, reading glasses tucked in the neck, and jumped straight into the set. We all know why we're here — who needs an introduction?
Hitchcock's guitar's remarkably rich tone showcased his sublimely understated finger-style playing with roots in an array of folk styles, from English ballads to American prewar blues to Indian ragas. Propelled by a chugging art-punk intensity, ringing clouds of tone radiated out to fill the space around his voice, a cultivated nasal drawl he's used to his advantage rather than trying to mask or alter. The recipe owes much to the late Syd Barrett, but in the end, Hitchcock has made a fluid style all his own. We thought for a minute that we might enjoy a Robyn Hitchcock comedy improv show, when we realized that we were watching exactly that. His self-effacing, semi-surrealist lyrics gain a critical perspective by looking sidelong at reality, spilling over into the stage banter as he explained with mock seriousness a conspiracy to hide country singer Jimmie Rodgers' identity as a land shark.
The first set was entirely solo, and continued the deep-cuts theme. The most easily recognizable song was "My Wife and My Dead Wife," and the newest was "Love Tractor" from 2006's Olé! Tarantula. After a short break, Hitchcock was joined by Grant-Lee Phillips for what constitutes possibly the best writers'-night setup we've ever seen. There were a few of Hitchcock's own songs, mostly from Queen Elvis — a welcome but unexpected choice, considering that Hitchcock and Phillips first worked together on Jewels for Sophia, and Hitchcock played all of the songs he was going to play from that record in the solo set.
The excellent selection of covers touched on The Band, including a haunting "Whispering Pines" and a version of "Cripple Creek" that replaced the funky, half-drunk hiccup rhythm with a country-blues shuffle. George Harrison's "Beware of Darkness," The Velvets' "Pale Blue Eyes" and Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" all made appearances. Stripping them to their bare skeletons showed how strong the bones are, not that the latter two were adorned heavily to begin with. There was even a goofy medley of David Bowie's "Sound and Vision," Dr. Hook's "When You're in Love With a Beautiful Woman" and Carl Douglas' novelty hit "Kung Fu Fighting," with some improvised lyrics added for the hell of it.
Hitchcock and Phillips were a perfect match. Despite their immense talents, they forced each other to underplay, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. They later revealed that instead of a set list, they'd written down a bunch of briefly rehearsed songs on the back of a paper plate and were mostly winging it. With the elegiac chorus of "Trams of Old London" as a lullaby, we counted ourselves lucky to have witnessed a spectacle of true craftsmanship, and marked the calendar to watch for the next visit.
Twerking. Somewhere between the cult success of Big Freedia and Miley Cyrus' mass-media appropriation, twerking became your child's new favorite pastime. For the unfamiliar and uninitiated, the twerk is an aerobic, rump-centric dance move centered on making the fatty tissue of the ass bounce and jiggle to the beat of aptly named "bounce" music, a hyper-sexual, hyperactive hybrid of the Dirty South's urban flavors like trap, Miami bass and crunk.
There was perhaps no better litmus test for Music City's twerk factor than Saturday night, when The Stone Fox featured an appearance by notable transgender bounce MC Katey Red. Moreover, the event ran simultaneously with "Shadynasty" — a monthly bounce DJ night hosted at East Side haunt Foobar — which no doubt separated Music City's twerkoholic wheat from its trendier chaff.
Had The Spin paid closer attention to scheduling, we'd have clicked another choice in our Netflix queue before heading to the show. While waiting for the festivities to begin, The Spin patiently watched the thing swell from an awkward staring contest to a small but spirited dance party to a full-on, twerk-driven rager — the soundtrack for which was provided by a duo of guest DJs: Stone Fox proprietor Elise Tyler as well as actress Rachel Korine of Spring Breakers fame. The two swapped stations at regular intervals, providing the room with an endless stream of Dirty Southern favorites and occasionally adorable dance moves.
By midnight, the Fox was overrun by a glorious parade of cross-dressed posteriors, where dudes looked like ladies and glutes glistened with shiny, skin-tight leggings and the shortest of shorts. The Stone Fox was hosting a "best dressed" and a "best dancer" contest, for which there was a $100 cash prize. Whether that was split between the two or awarded to each, we failed to gather. But hey, $100, right?
Just as we were about to forget why we came to this thing in the first place, the towering and fabulous Katey Red took to the stage, commanding roaring applause. Backed by two backup dancers (one being local cable access personality Courtney "La Conchita" Nuding) as well as DJ Elise (who stuck around to queue backing tracks), Red launched into a set of frenzied, turbo-charged tunes that got the room bouncing in record time. Glutes were wiggling, rumps were shaking, and Red's genre-specific calls were met with an overwhelming response. At one point, there very well may have been more dancers onstage than in the crowd.
Mind you, it wasn't all butter. There were quite a few false starts when the wrong track was played, and things went from awkward to kind of awesome after technical difficulties forced the show into an involuntary intermission. Red cycled through crowd-hyping call-and-response routines and launched into some raw a cappella MC skills. The show got back on track just long enough for folks to work up another sweat, and that was all she wrote. While there were hiccups aplenty, when the kids wanna twerk, you'd best believe there's no stopping them.
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