Although I'm still a little too depressed about last night's election results, along with the terrifying thought of six more weeks of condescending interviews and press releases from Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson, I can at least say some good things about the Jonathan Richman show I saw last night!
Richman, for those who might not know, is a beloved (mostly acoustic) singer-songwriter and former member of the seminal and short-lived proto-punk band The Modern Lovers back in the early 70's. The Modern Lovers are most famous for their lover of the Velvet Underground, their hatred of hippies, and for writing the time-tested classic "Roadrunner," (mp3) one of the great driving songs of all time.
The Modern Lovers looked like this:
But these days, as you can see, Richman's aesthetic is a little more laid-back:
Anyway, back to the show. Vic Chesnutt, the opener, put on a very entertaining and interesting performance. The wheelchair-bound Chesnutt had a wry, dark sensibility that contrasted perfectly with J Richman's unfailingly upbeat style. Although he was constantly stopping his performance to get his guitar back in tune, he won over the audience with his laid-back style and a very funny song about the Iraq War.
Richman himself was in typically good form. I was thrilled to see that mixed in with the typical favorites ("I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar," "Pablo Picasso," "Girlfriend") were some classic old tunes that I was excited to hear, including the wonderful, perpetually overlooked "Egyptian Reggae." (mp3) Here's a video of that song which, while not taken from the show, pretty closely mirrors the kind of performance he puts on:
In addition, near the end of the show, Richman played his typically brilliant live version of "Let Her Go Into the Darkness," which everyone always go nuts over because he sings a verse of the song in English, then in French, then in Spanish, and this time in Hebrew. There was a lot of stuff from the new, as yet unreleased record that he threw in as well, which was a little hit and miss (the "Cellphone Song" wasn't exactly a slice of heaven), but nonetheless seemed to go over pretty well with the crowd.
This is now the 4th time I've seen Richman, and, though it was unquestionably entertaining, it did remind me of the perils of seeing any artist you love in New York. First of all, it was in Williamsburg, which meant I had to deal with a bunch of rich, skinny hipsters that all looked like they were about 17 years old (you know, not to generalize or anything). I'm only in my mid-twenties, but does that already make me too old for this neighborhood? It certainly felt that way at times. Secondly, the show was sold out, which meant that I was getting bumped all show and couldn't really see anything anyway. Finally, and here I'll admit to being just a little petty, the person right behind my friend Steve and I had this barking half-laugh of surprise that she would do any time that Richman said anything sweet or funny. She did this every 45 seconds or so (Richman says a lot of sweet, funny things) and it led me to seriously contemplate seppuku by the end of the night.
Overall, though, a typically great Jonathan Richman show. He's the kind of artist that creates so much happiness and positive energy among the concert goers that you've really got to go out to see him at least once to really experience it (a hippy-ish thing to say, I admit, but nevertheless true).
If anyone wants it, here is the set list I cobbled together from the show (March 4th, 2008 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg):
Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow
Springtime in New York
Leonard Cohen Cover
Cellphone Song (new song)
I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar
When We Refuse to Listen (new song)
Unknown Spanish Song
My Love for Her Ain't Sad
Vermeer (new song)
Let Her Go Into the Darkness
Unknown song in French
Curly and Wild (new song)
Vincent Van Gogh
Cell Phone Song (reprise)
Unknown Song about his Mother