When asked if his British fans are any different than those in the U.S., one might expect Robyn Hitchcock to talk about varying levels of enthusiasm or whether one audience knows the words to the songs better than the other. But the Brit is a bit more scientific.
"They're probably a pretty similar kind of brainwave frequency," he says. "I haven't dissected any of them.... But they're generally liberal, humane people with a sense of humor."
One obvious difference, at least for American fans who live in San Diego, is that they might not be able to recognize him. Not that he's had cheekbone implants or anything like that; it's just that he hasn't played in the city for more than nine years.
Best known for his output with Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians in the '80s, Hitchcock's music has always been a collision of melody, poetry, intelligence and humor. Some of his best output can be traced back to his original group, The Soft Boys, whose 1980 album, Underwater Moonlight, has become something of a pop-punk touchstone. Released around the time punk was morphing into new wave, the album fused punk attitude ("I Wanna Destroy You"), impressive musicianship ("Kingdom of Love") and top-notch pop tunes ("Queen of Eyes").
Although The Soft Boys briefly reformed to record Nextdoorland in 2002, both of Hitchcock's proper rock bands have ceased performing as units. He's kept himself busy, though, with a stream of solo albums. Many of his best, like 1990's Eye, capture him in the studio alone with an acoustic guitar and little else. His last solo release, 2004's Spooked, was a haunting bit of bluegrass thanks to the instrumental backing of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
"I don't have a regular band anymore," he says. "I just sort of borrow people and put them back afterwards."
At the end of his current West Coast run, he and tour mates The Minus 5 will record together in a Seattle studio. Hitchcock explains that "it will be a Hitchcock record, but they'll be the band on it. I have started playing on some of [the songs by Scott McCaughey, vocalist-songwriter for The Minus 5], so the lines between me and The Minus 5 are starting to blur."
It's not a new collaboration. Hitchcock, McCaughey and The Minus 5 and R.E.M. member Peter Buck have been playing together for years.
"If I'm in Seattle, they play with me, or if they're over in London, we play in the pub late at night," Hitchcock explains. "They were on an album of mine in the late-'90s called Jewels for Sophia. This is just a visible manifestation of something that's been around for quite some time."
The show at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach will further blur the lines between the two. The Minus 5 will open the show, followed by Hitchcock performing by himself, and then The Minus 5 will return to the stage as his backing band. Hitchcock has also learned to play "Cigs Coffee Booze," "Aw, Shit Man" and "My Life As A Creep" from The Minus 5's latest, self-titled album.
Live, Hitchcock says he'll perform a mixed batch of material from his solo career, a couple of Soft Boys tunes and a cover or two (he hinted at The Beatles and The Byrds). Mostly, though, he'll just be trying to avoid the cheese.
"Ooooooohhh," the well-documented cheese fanatic says when informed that there's a shop downtown that sells nothing but. "I don't really do cheese very much anymore. My wife and I are both kind of powerless before cheese. We have been succumbing to cheese because it has been on the rider while we've been on tour, but we try not to keep any in the house. I probably shouldn't be popping cheese down in San Diego."Robyn Hitchcock and Minus 5 play with Plump at the Belly Up, 8 p.m. on Feb. 23. $17-$19. 858-481-8140.