See the slideshow for more photos.
With temperatures in the 30s, a $17 cover in the face of popular and more frugal Monday night options like 8 off 8th or the 5 Spot dance party, and taking into consideration Nashville's general apathy towards living legends of the rock 'n' roll variety, we were pleasantly surprised to find a crowd of more than 150 strong when we waltzed into Exit/In for last night's Robyn Hitchcock show. Moments after our arrival, local rock dignitary Bobby Bare Jr. took to the stage for a set that was much more subdued than what we've come to expect from him. With an ensemble featuring keyboards, trumpet, baritone sax and a back-up vocalist in tow Bare proceeded to play an emotive alt-country tinged set that--with glittering vocal harmonies accompanying his deep sandy bellowing--was more reminiscent of CSNY than it was of his alt-rock past. Recent Nashville transplant David Vandervelde joined Bare in plugging their new release American Bread--which apparently features them covering songs by either America or Bread. Were they serious?
After a brief intermission spent hobnobbing amongst the urbane, mostly thirtysomething, bookish scenesters-of-the-1980s that made up the majority of the crowd, we went outside for a chilly rain-soaked nicotine fix that had us longing for the days when Exit/In was a smoker friendly venue. It was just as we re-entered the club and began thawing out that Robyn Hitchcock made his way onstage with his stellar backing band The Venus 3, featuring R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, and sidemen Scott McCaughey and Bill Reiflin on bass and drums respectively. Since Hitchcock was essentially being backed by the current line-up of Athens' finest, the aesthetic comparison is obvious. Peter Buck's playing style is so distinctly idiosyncratic that it's almost impossible to sonically divorce it from the voice of Michael Stipe. Each time he played the intro to a song we didn't know, it was easy to briefly mistake it for "Fall on Me," "Pretty Persuasion" or "So. Central Rain."
Not that that's a bad thing. Being that Hitchcock was an early pioneer of the sound that R.E.M. would eventually take to multi-platinum highs, there is simply no better group of musicians to provide the continuous wall of jangle needed to cradle his limey, Syd Barrett-meets-Ray Davies vocals and waywardly contorted tunes. With the exception of a few sulky slow numbers, the set was heavy with bouncy pop, focusing on material from his latest offering Goodnight Oslo. Although the Soft Boys classic "I Wanna Destroy You" would be absent from the night's proceedings, highlights and crowd pleasers included "Television," "Flesh Number One," "Somewhere Apart" and "Madonna of the Wasps," each song chock full of his wry whimsical lyrics, filling verses that were matched only by the dry cutting wit with which he kept us in stitches all night, taking playful comedic aim at targets as wide ranging as Lou Barlow, Brian Epstein, Uma Thurman and himself, with his endlessly entertaining stage banter.
As we were physically disposing of some cold coffee in the club's notoriously rank w/c we found ourselves sharing a moment with a post-set, pre-encore Peter Buck who said, "This smell is what I've been smelling onstage all night." Things got even stranger when he departed, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills came into the bathroom and randomly said to us in a frustrated tone, "Never get involved with musicians," before cursing the gods above: "Motherfucker!" Minutes later, Mills was called onstage to join the band--with Buck now on drums--for a ramshackle rendition of "Listening to the Higsons" to close the show. As the band made their exodus, Mills went up to the mic and said, "You just saw the best you'll see in Tennessee all year." Obviously he's never seen Totally Snake.