Last Night: Jonathan Richman at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios

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Jonathan Richman
Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios
February 13, 2011

Better than: watching the Grammys.

A Jonathan Richman show is like nothing else. This was evident very early on last night.

Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, where Richman performed on Sunday night, is notoriously smoky and never in any particular hurry to start the evening's proceedings. But their website stated, quite clearly, that doors for this show would open at 8, and that the music would begin at 9, "sharp." Not only that, but this show was a non-smoking even.

No smoking at the smokiest bar in town? Yes, this was indeed a very different night.

Of course, the evening's guest had everything to do with the changes, and his unique impact made for an interesting evening all around.

There was no opener, so at just abotu 9, as advertised, Richman and drummer Tommy Larkins began wandering through the crowd up to the stage, walking all the way through the bar area and calling to the crowd, "Hey!" and "How are ya?" and "You ready for a good time?"

Why, yes, the crowd was. But it took the first half of the set for the artist and audience to really connect.

Richman's performance style is legendary. It's not so much a set style, actually, as it is an ongoing conversation. And it's nothing like a regular concert.

Richman performs his songs as loosely as possible, moving verses around, jumping in and out of choruses, sometimes putting down his guitar to play bells or just a grab a quick drink of water. But that looseness -- some would call it an amateurish approach -- is one of the endearing and charming aspects Richman boasts. You're there as much to experience him and his quirks as you are to hear his music.

That charm seemed to be running low for part of the evening, however. The first half of Richman's set seemed to drag, with a very willing audience looking for any opportunity to fully connect with him. It wasn't until he played "I Was Dancing At The Lesbian Bar" that the crowd had something to really shout about.

After that point, real connection abounded everywhere.

It led to louder screams from the audience, and an even more appreciative Richman dancing as he sang and spoke with the crowd.

At one point, someone asked if Richman would play "Vincent Van Gogh," and he immediately replied, "Why not?" and launched right into the song. There was almost constant chatter and light back-and-forth throughout the night -- sometimes right in the middle of the songs.

Again, a unique experience. And one that explains Richman's continued loyal, albeit small, fanbase.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
This was my first Jonathan Richman show. I'm glad I experienced it, but I'm not sure I'll be converted to a full-fledged Richman-head.

By The Way: Rubber Gloves was not only moving early and lacking the typical cloud of cigarette smoke on this night, but it was also the quietest I've ever experienced the room. Every person was watching Richman -- no one was lounging in the bar area. Once you left the half-full performance room, you could have heard a mouse toot.

Random Note: Seriously, who the heck is Esperanza Spalding?

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