Storefront Hitchcock Label: Noble Rot
In 1998, director Jonathan Demme came up with the least commercially successful idea of his cinematic career: to make a Robyn Hitchcock concert film. Given that the director helmed one of the most critically acclaimed concert films of all time, one presumes that someone at MGM was a big fan of Demme’s “Stop Making Sense” and figured, “Hey, if he can work his magic on the Talking Heads, then maybe he can do the same thing for this Ronnie Pitchfork, or whatever the hell is name is.”
Well, Demme did…and Demme didn’t. “Storefront Hitchcock,” which poised our man Robyn in the front window of a vacant store on 14th Street in Manhattan, offered a great performance of songs from his more recent albums. Unfortunately, as implied above, it didn’t exactly do anything to transform Hitchcock into a full-fledged alt-rock superstar, a la David Byrne and company; in fact, it only did a few thousand dollars worth of box office, and it’s fair to say that almost all of that came courtesy of his existing fanbase.
Okay, fair enough, Robyn Hitchcock’s still a cult hero, despite the best intentions of Jonathan Demme. Let’s get back to that “great performance” bit, shall we?
Storefront Hitchcock is a 12-song collection – it’s missing a few songs from the movie, alas – which finds Robyn mixing up old material with more recent work, even throwing in a few all-new tracks for good measure. As set lists go, however, it must be said that this one perhaps could’ve been chosen a bit better; it’s clearly for those who have already been indoctrinated into the cult of Hitchcock. Given that he had a few college radio hits in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it would’ve been a reasonable concession to throw in something like, say, “Balloon Man” or “Madonna of the Wasps.” Instead, when Hitchcock delves into his catalog, he sticks to eccentric tracks like “Freeze,” from 1989’s Queen Elvis, and “The Yip! Song,” from 1993’s Respect. There are a few tracks from his then-new Warner Brothers album, Moss Elixir, but the best of the newer material is opener “1974,” which is about as definitively British a song as can be found in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, containing references to Syd Barrett’s last session and the final Monty Python series. There’s even a sublime cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary.”
Mind you, despite the eccentric song choices, Hitchcock performs all of the material brilliantly, occasionally with the assistance of guitarist Tim Keegan and violist Deni Bonet. But if Hitchcock wasn’t willing to offer any particular concessions to the masses with his song selections, we really shouldn’t be terribly surprised that the masses didn’t turn out in droves to see his concert film. That doesn’t mean, however, that the film isn’t worth seeing…or, more importantly, that the soundtrack isn’t worth owning.