Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jonathan Richman at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

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
Pablo Picasso
Leonard Cohen Cover
Cellphone Song (new song)
I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar
Egyptian Reggae
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
Old World
Unknown song in French
Curly and Wild (new song)
Vincent Van Gogh

Cell Phone Song (reprise)
Unknown Song about his Mother


Megan said...

The balcony is where it's at. We had plenty of space to sit and enjoy, and a clear view of everything going on!

Also, that song was so not about his mother. It was about his mother DYING.

Zach said...

Weird! I've been on a huge Richman kick over the past couple of weeks. In particular, his 80's stuff.

This YouTube video couples 80's footage of him with one of my favorite jams. What's crazy is how young he looks in 1985, but really he's just a year younger than my parents. One of those perpetual youngsters I guess.

Josh said...

Yeah, there's something about his 80's and early Rounder stuff that really sucks me in this time of the year, especially as the weather finally gets better.

Thanks, by the way, for the clip! (btw, he has a goatee now, which does make him look like he's at least in his late 20's)

agingsnob said...

You totally stole this review format from my Magnetic Fields posting! I'm just kidding....sort of :)

I’d didn’t realize he did that many “Modern Lovers” (from that album) songs live. Maybe I should go see him someday, then, even though I am not a big fan of later Richman. But basing a career on loving Sister Ray and being awkward is pretty fucking impressive.

I learned this weekend if you go to Union Hall you feel young... It's just the 'Burg I think. Oh and Vampire Weekend Shows.

Josh said...

Hmm, I don't know that I "stole" your format so much as worked off the basic "music review 101" template that pretty much every review I've ever read uses.

Still, thanks for the comment. You're probably right about the age thing being the same everywhere, though Williamsburg still seems worse than the others.

Todd said...

Nice! Both Jonathan and Vic are coming to St. Lou next week, and this only serves to increase my anticipation. It's on a Tuesday night, so I don't expect it to sell out... was it an early show?

Josh said...

Pretty standard time:

Doors at 8
Vic at 9
Richman at 10
Show finished at 11:15
3 subway lines later, home by 12:15