Concert Review: Robyn Hitchcock/The Young Fresh Fellows/Peter Buck

Concert Review: Robyn Hitchcock/The Young Fresh Fellows/Peter Buck

(Photo: Nigel D Nudds)

How strange is it to see Peter Buck sing? For 30 years he stood to the side while Michael Stipe shimmied and shook, dutifully playing his jingle jangle Rickenbacker. For a guitar hero, Buck isn’t one for heroics and he’s never appeared to grasp for the limelight, making his debut record on local label Mississippi Records all the more surprising. Who would have thought Buck would have been the first member of the former band known as R.E.M. out of the stable with a record of his own?

Kicking off his set with “So Long, Johnny,” Buck get some help from R.E.M. alum Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin, along with guitarist Kurt Bloch. The song came straight from the garage, simple and rocking. Then Buck sang, his voice a raspy nail file similar to late-era Shane MacGowan. “You know the whole thing when the singer talks to the audience?” Buck asked in between songs, breaking his laconic demeanor for a moment. “That’s kinda bullshit, right?” He paused and then wryly added, “I thought so.” Then the band launched into “It’s Alright.”

The nine song set rattled by in 30 minutes, loose and ramshackle. Buck’s girlfriend Chloe Johnson and Jenny Conlee of Decemberists’ fame sang backup on one song while Corin Tucker took the lead another. By the time the band reached closer “I’m Alive,” it seemed as if all of Portland’s music royalty would join them.

Speaking of Portland royalty, McCaughey was everywhere, fronting his Young Fresh Fellows for the second act of the evening. He even managed to slip a cover of the Kinks’ “Picture Book” in between his kindly brand of pop songs ranging from “Mr. Salamander’s Review” to “Taco Wagon” before finishing up with “Topsy Turvy Theme.”

By the time Robyn Hitchcock took the stage, the crowd seemed to swell to near capacity. His hair now completely white, Hitchcock opened the set with a gentle, solo version of “Only the Stones Remain” on acoustic guitar, following up with “The Wreck of Arthur Lee.”

Hitchcock’s voice has aged gracefully and retains a distinctive Englishness similar to the late Davy Jones that British singers often try to bleed out. Of course, using words like “banjaxed” to describe his feelings about the bill don’t obscure the man’s origins either.

As Hitchcock’s set wore on, he added more and more accompanists. Up first was Sean Nelson from Harvey Danger to harmonize on “Dismal City” and “Queen Elvis.” Then Rieflin return to provide drums on a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York” and “Savannah.” Finally, Buck and McCaughey reappeared for “Television” and some other songs.

As the stage grew even more crowded when Colin Meloy appeared to sing along with “Saturday Groovers,” all the guests couldn’t outshine the power of Hitchcock’s presence and songwriting. What unfolded was something special, a group of friends playing music that extended into the audiences, making it feel as if we were all part of the gang. This feeling of bonhomie culminated in the closing song “Olé! Tarantula” and bled into the short encore of “Queen of Eyes” from Hitchcock’s Soft Boys years. There was that special feeling of being in the know and knowing that sometimes rock ‘n’ roll is enough to make an evening great.

Leave a Comment