peter buck smile challenge
we were almost just sitting around and having a nice cup of tea in the dark as waily captain beefheart lookalike departed the stage to a single clap and relative to a norwich appreciation level that was a deafening roar considering there must have been at most 90 of us packed into the waterfront with maybe 10 square feet each to ourselves so when it all kicked off and we thronged, guardian reader-like, to the crush barriers at the front, I almost knocked someone’s deck chair over and woke them up.
we assembled as usual at the altar of Robyn Hitchcock looking our customary socially inadequate and middle-class dad selves and all did that little nod and hopelessly off time dance step which doesn’t involve much more than moving your head backwards and forwards and occasionally punching the air at waist height while ironically and whimsically smiling to yourself because you know all the words to the songs from Perspex Island. only this time is wasn’t just a guitar and morris slapping the bongos in falsetto, it was the latest roving incarnation of a rock royalty support band in the shape of the Venus 3, who, as Robyn points out, are 3/4 of R.E.M. and 3/5 of the Minus 5 or something as it is made up of Peter Buck, Bill Rieflin and Scott McCaughey who all feature on the Olé Tarantula album which made up about a quarter of the set which also included a selection box of previous solos and enough Soft Boys to keep the hardcore, which in this case means old, happy, and the usual rambling english intellectual twitness from one of the archetypal english eccentrics, who happens to have most of the others featured on the album or co-writing
as R.E.M. are having a year off, most of them are touring tiny clubs as the Venus 3 in front of about 100 people at a time and when do you get to stand 10 feet from Peter Buck as he changes electric 12-strings for fun and rips power chords and byrdsy twangdangles looking like he wishes he could do it like this all the time? well, actually, he looked like somebody had just told him his cat had been sucked into an irony vortex and the challenge for the evening was to see if he ever curled his lip. but he never does. even after the gig when he’s stood behind a formica table with a few robyn cds because they left the merchandise in brighton and is surrounded by about 15 of us telling him how great it was, he still looks like he’s been slapped by the invisible man. I mean, I know he’s having a ball really.
it’s not about R.E.M. though. long before things went all Green, R.E.M. and Robyn were already mutually respectual, as the Virtual Brighton magazine notes: Beginning as a strummer in Cambridge’s folk clubs, Hitchcock developed into a bandleader, heading up folk-pop iconoclasts the Soft Boys, one of alternative rock’s least sung but most influential bands. Yet by the time bands like R.E.M. and the Replacements quoted the Soft Boys as a major influence, Hitchcock had moved on to what would become his distinguished solo career. In other words, people were here to see Robyn Hitchcock. The support band were something of a novelty. a good one though. The BBC Oxford site sums up the whole things pretty nicely, but then again, Michael Stipe joined them on stage at the Zodiac and Thom Yorke was in the audience.