In 1995, I got fired from a job. It was the first job I’d had in Israel and the first time I’d ever been fired from anything. Suffice it to say I was pretty despondent on that day.
REM saved me.
The night after I was laid off, my favorite rock band REM was playing in Tel Aviv. I had decided not to go – the tickets were too expensive – but after getting canned, I decided I needed something to cheer me up and take my mind off of the fact I was newly in Israel with two kids, a wife in ulpan and no foreseeable income. I went with my good friend Eliot who was also a massive REM fan.
REM has since broken up (a real shame because, after 10 years of producing mediocre records, they finally roared back into relevance with Collapse Into Now). But the band was back in Israel, in a way, this past weekend in the form of Robyn Hitchcock. I got a chance to catch them with my still good friend Eliot, and made possible by Israelity colleague and buddy David Brinn.
Robyn Hitchcock has been around for ages – in the late 1970s he headed up a proto-punk band called The Soft Boys. He had a number of college radio hits in the early 1980s with a band he called The Egyptians.
Now here’s the REM connection: in the last few years, he’s put together an occasional recording and touring band with REM guitarist Peter Buck. Calling themselves The Venus 3, they more often than not sound scarily similar to REM.
Buck is the master behind REM’s jangly pop bright guitar sound that was the band’s staple coda in its early years. That was ever present in The Venus 3’s original songs, and it happily bled into versions the band performed of early Hitchcock material too.
Hitchcock is no Michael Stipe – I’ve never liked the former’s voice that much – but his lyrics are keen, the music catchy and he has a quirky troubadour-like stage presence.
I wasn’t commiserating over any particular setback Saturday night when we went to see The Venus 3 Tel Aviv’s Barby Club. That made the show pure pleasure rather than the compulsory catharsis of 17 years ago.
This was Hitchcock’s second time in Israel in less than six months. He played an acoustic set late last year at Tel Aviv’s Ozen Bar. This time out he was fully electric.
Hitchcock has a pre-rock star connection to Israel too: he spent time on a kibbutz in 1971. Come back and visit soon, Mr. Hitchcock – and don’t wait another 40 years.
Eliot wrote a great review of the show for The Jerusalem Post.
Here’s a short video clip I made of the show.
Here’s a link to a full-length 1985 REM concert that showcases Peter Buck’s jangly guitar at its creative heights.