Jonathan Richman Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios October 2, 2008
Better than: Catching a more stoic artist pretend to be unaffected by the crowd.
Imagine, for a moment, that you're not in Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. The concrete floors and walls and overall bare bones concert environment are out of mind.
Instead, you're in a living room.
Maybe it's your house. Maybe it's a friend's house. Either way, you're comfortable, relaxed.
And then in walks a buddy's cousin, or uncle. His name is Jonathan, and he's quirky, animated, eccentric and, most of all, entertaining (I mean, c'mon, he refers to himself in third person). Jonathan then pulls out a guitar and starts an impromptu troubadour set. It's hilarious, poignant and thought-provoking, all at once.
You're at a loss for words. This is one of the most entertaining things you've ever seen.
Truly, it is. Jonathan Richman is, in the simplest terms, an entertainer. The fact that he's goofy as hell helps: He shakes his hips a little ironically as he sings; he puts down the guitar and flat-out shimmies across the stage during drumming breakdowns; and when he gets bored, he finds a cowbell and hammers away.
But Richman, also, is something of an amazing songwriter, writing simple out-there ditties for the oddball eccentric loyal fans he's amassed over his nearly 40-year career. Sure, in his earlier years he was more of a punk than the crooner he is today, but the idea--writing oddly affecting, humorous ditties about girls and the weird things in life--has always remained. And on RGRS' stage (when you remember that you're not actually in a living room--it was a metaphor), Richman, whose career has spanned many great ups and downs, is far more his There's Something About Mary chorus singer than his old-time Modern Lover frontman.
And that's OK. Great, even. Because Richman still sings "Pablo Picasso" and "Girlfriend," two of the more memorable tracks off of the Modern Lovers' 1976 debut disc. He just sings them with more of a learned vibe now, like a children's entertainer performing to a group of cross-legged-seated six-year-olds (and not the varied in age--anywhere from age 18 to age 60--dancing, singing, clapping and truly appreciative audience he had in Denton).
That appreciation, meanwhile, went both ways: As the crowds marvelled at the 57-year-old Richman's youthful exuberance, hilarious stories and touching songs, Richman smiled back at the audience, appearing on the verge of tears of joy throughout.
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When his hour-long set came to a close, no one in the audience wanted to move. Instead they kept cheering. And though Richman never returned for an encore in response to the applause, I don't think anyone left his show disappointed. --Pete Freedman
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I was born and raised just outside of Boston, where Richman has been a fixture in the music scene since the early, early 1970s. His is a show I've wanted to see since I first delved into the Modern Lovers' catalogue a few years back, and this was my first chance to do it. Well worth the wait.
Random Note: Richman railed on modern technology throughout the evening, which brought on a great moment of irony at one point: As Richman was deriding the popularity of cellular phones, a number of audience members were snapping shots of Richman with--yep--their camera phones.
By The Way: One of Richman's quirks is that he sings songs in various other languages--only, as he admitted to the audience at RGRS, he rarely takes the literal translative meanings to heart. He'd rather project his own meaning onto the words, he said, "because, well, [he] made them up."