Tuesday, October 28

Champaign, IL: October 25, 2008

Jonathan played to a small crowd in Champaign, but the show didn't suffer any for it. William Gillespie and C.D. Scoggins were lucky enough to attend, and kind enough to write a review that's longer than the paragraphs I'm used to stumbling upon.

A goateed man with a guitar case walked out onto the bar floor and announced, "They said we can play now so we're going to play. We ain't going to play loud so come on up." About 25 people wandered up to the stage as Jonathan strapped on a guitar and his band—his drummer Tommy—climbed behind the drum kit.

Richman was lanky, lean and seemingly boneless as he played guitar. It struck me that he didn't need a guitar strap; he was so in shape that he could hold his guitar up during songs. His eyes, beady and sparkly black, appeared to knowingly penetrate the audience. Opening with "Let Her Go into the Darkness" (from the soundtrack to There's Something About Mary), Richman quickly engaged the crowd. As someone more familiar with his early 1970s material with the Modern Lovers, I was astounded that the 57-year-old's smooth and trembling voice hadn't changed one bit. It had not been ravaged by the alcohol and nicotine abuse that befalls so many older artists. I'd heard somewhere that Richman was a pretty sober guy. Tonight, it showed: His physical appearance and vocals were pristine. So let that be a lesson to all those wrinkly, bloated classic-rock fossils who croak through their high notes at ill-advised reunion shows: Clean living pays off.

He looked worried at times, and other times he would smile as if a private thought had relieved him for a moment of his sorrow. He seems so proud when he plays a real rock lick—a simple, tough melody—he grins like a kid, eyes still a bit worried that he might not pull it off again. He has a restless, multilingual, self-deprecating intelligence and an open heart. I sense a sadness that his music is a struggle against.

Read the rest at Smile Politely.

Friday, October 24

It's not all "I'm a Little Dinosaur"

Steve Rosen of CityBeat wrote a great article on the oft-ignored depth of Jonathan's music. He makes note of Jonathan's cutesy stuff, and how fans of the original Modern Lovers always felt cheated that Jonathan stopped being angry at the world and started noticing bugs. But most of the article brings up examples of Jonathan's stuff that is hardly surface or silly, but often gets overlooked. Jonathan, I think at least, has merit as a poet, and I've actually used him in serious business papers for my professors before. Well played, Mr. Rosen.

Richman has developed a sizable and underappreciated repertoire of songs expressing an adult’s wise, thoughtful and poetic take on love and the passage of time. They often still manage to connect with his memories of childhood, which gives them an extraordinary perspective that few singer-songwriters can manage.

Richman’s oft-recorded “That Summer Feeling” is an example. It’s lyrically playful in listing alluring, enticing images associated with summer — and thus, symbolically, with one’s prime. But he keeps stepping out of the mood to caution, in that choked-back voice of his, “That summer feeling is going to haunt you one day in your life.”

The Surrender album, one of his best, includes “My Little Girl’s Got a Full Time Daddy Now” and the extraordinary “Floatin’ ” (“I had a dream about floatin’/ Out there on a raft in the ocean/ My my family far behind/ Why are they so hard to find?”).

The lovely “Springtime in New York,” from the Her Mystery album that came out right after 9/11, remarkably takes us through the stages of a couple’s relationship with spare but lucid observations about the East Village in spring.

On his latest album, this year’s excellent Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild, Richman moves from manchild to solemn grown son in a short but emotionally open song about spending time with his dying mother, “As My Mother Lay Lying.”

Playing acoustic guitar at his gentlest, he brings far more honesty and unsentimental courage to the subject of familial mortality than just about any songwriter. Yet at the same time, sad as it is, the song is also written with powerful clarity and a hard-earned sense of acceptance. It is, hard to believe, beautiful.

Read the rest over at CityBeat

Chapel Hill, NC: Oct 10, 2008

Dogsinasweater posted their review of Jonathan's show at the Local 506, and found it impossible not to enjoy himself.

If you haven't guessed by now, I enjoyed the hell out of this gig. I've seen a lot of Jonathan over the years, and this might have been my favorite time. He may not have played all of my favorite songs (I was really hoping for “Ice Cream Man” and/or “Down In Bermuda”), there may have been a bunch if old, asshole fans screaming at the man like he was a performing monkey, and it might have been hot as shit because the air conditioning system was turned off since they play at such a low volume, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. The man is a real treasure, a joy to watch perform, and more of the kids playing music today should look towards him for inspiration on how to carry yourself on a stage.

Read the rest at dogsinasweater.

Wednesday, October 22

Reviewlet and pictures

K.A. Laity saw Jonathan at Club Helsinki last week, and wrote this short little review of the experience:

Richman and his drummer came out and set up their equipment themselves. The troubadour extraordinaire -- he was just an endless delight, playful and fun and story telling and hopping off the tiny stage to step out into the tiny audience and sing right to us. He started with "No One was like Vermeer" and sang in French, Spanish, Italian as the mood struck him. He was meandering all over and playing with the microphone when it didn't work. Richman's songs are like flash fiction pieces you realise as he's singing about the Marx Bros or why he doesn't have a cell phone and never will or summer and winter and New England and the smell of the school bus in junior high ("2% cigarettes from those guys who sit in the back, 30% wool, 30% ice and snow and the rest..."). A lively intelligence and curiosity provide his restless muse. It's a treat to see a performer like this. He rocks, he swings.

read the rest at Wombat's World.

I've also had the good fortune of stumbling across some great pictures from this tour. The one right above me comes from the Charlotte show and can be found, with some others, on ACTortorici's flickr.

I am also fond of jenny alva's pictures from the Parish. This happens to be my personal favorite, but feel free to peruse them yourself.

My favorite, thus far at least, have to come from Savannah. Geoff L Johnson came out with some absolutely fantastic photos of the Savannah show. Savannah Smiles indeed. I am jealous of his photographic ability, to say the least. Run, don't walk, to see the rest of his photos from the concert, over at his website, Geoff L Johnson.

Thursday, October 16

New York, NY: October 14th, 2008

I hesitate to say 'There's Something about Jonathan', since, to the best of my knowledge, he has never been actively pursued by several men willing to commit fraud and espionage to win his love. But as cliché as the phrase has become, nothing else seems to fit quite right. I have long noted that seeing Jonathan live has an effect on people; previously casual or indifferent followers become wide-eyed adherents from the moment he begins to sing. It seems as though Jonathan has done it again, as Sur la Route Encore writes of the Jonathan Richman experience at The Society for Ethical Culture.

I attended the very entertaining Jonathan Richman show on a gorgeous Tuesday evening at the Concert Hall of the Society for Ethical Culture. While certainly well-aware and appreciative of his musical history, I was previously a casual listener. I wasn't in the group of Jonathan Richman afficionados. Or, at least, I wasn't until last night.

Wow, just wow. The Concert Hall was a perfect setting for this show - intimate, personal, intense. Jonathan's unique style and the intensity of his life philosophy shone through in a show fully appreciated by his many long-time fans. Even if his set consisted almost entirely of his last three albums ("it has to be fresh"). The crowd was just fully engaged with Jonathan and holding tight to his every lyrical dabbling and spontaneous styling.

Specific highlights of the show for me (other than, of course, the deeply evocative lyrics and the intensity of his delivery) were his polylingual extensions in Let Her Go and Vampire Girls; the intensity while singing without a microphone in Springtime in New York; storytelling in The Lovers Are Here and They're Full of Sweat; and the joyous rendition of I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar (which, as the last song in the main set, continued on and on (3 or 4 restarts) as the crowd continued its adorative clapping). "Do you want to hear it? You have no choice" was his twice-used lead-in when transitioning from English into romance languages. Conveniently, I am near-fluent in French and Spanish (as was much of the crowd, apparently, based on their reactions to specific lyrics), and joining Jonathan in using greater linguistic range to expand the expression of human experience added immensely to the show.

Es Como El Pan and When We Refuse to Suffer are my favorite songs from "Because Her Beauty...", and I loved the expanded lyrics in both (e.g. "that's when the homeowner's association wins and your purple and yellow paint job is the loser"). But the show was strong from first note to last (and quite the last, ending with the deeply personal "As my Mother Lay Lying").

I just wasn't prepared for how much I would enjoy this performance.

Ah, who could be? Read the rest, and the set list, over at Sur la Route Encore.

Pictures by Boulevard007, over at Williamsboard

Philadelphia, PA: October 12th, 200

The Inquirer wrote up a small review of the Philadelphia show at First Unitarian Church. Sam Adams writes:

Few musicians take as much unfettered glee in the sheer act of performance as Jonathan Richman. At the First Unitarian Church on Sunday night, Richman frequently stepped away from the microphone and put down his guitar to dance. As his body twisted and bucked (the crowd was particularly fond of his sweeping high kicks), his eyes were wide and distant, as if he'd been swept away by his own songs.

Read the rest at philly.com

Jonathan and Ernie Brooks

In 1998, Jonathan and Ernie played together again in NYC for Joey Ramone's birthday party. This video shows the two friends, backed by Tom Larkins, literally reinventing "girlfen" and "roadrunner". Jonathan is laughing while leading this "power trio'', (remember Cream, ... or Zuba).
Ernie is blonking his electric bass while Jonathan is getting "string effects" from his acoustic guitar.
"Roadrunner" is a song I have asked several times on request to Jonathan at his concerts but he never took my request. Here is a chance to get a relatively recent - 10 years - renddition of this eternal song.
Jonathan does not consider it as a classic though : " Louie Louie" is a classic, "Gloria" is a classic , "Roadrunner" is not a classic!!"
See how Jonathan is wrong because "Roadrunner" is thee classic from the 70's.

Tuesday, October 14

Jonathan Sings! (On TV)

A great TV performance of "You're Crazy for Taking the Bus" from Jonathan. It's from Late Night with Conan O'Brien, but I am unsure of the year. I always love these clips from Conan, the idea of a totally uninitiated audience having Jonathan sprung on them. Sure enough, by the end of the song, the crowd is completely with him. It's great stuff.

In the vein of flashbacks from "Jonathan Goes Country", here's Jonathan playing "Since She Started to Ride" in Charlottesville at the Gravity lounge last Saturday, October 11th.

Friday, October 3

Dallas, TX :October 2, 2008

For that lucky half of the U.S., Jonathan is kicking off his east coast fall tour in Texas, and Pete Freedman of the Dallas Observer wrote a review of last night's show at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Dallas. Picture also courtesy of Pete Freedman.

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.

Read the rest over at the DC9 at night music blog

One of the things I love about this review are the little notes at the end. For example: 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."

End of the road Festival 2008

In his BLog "Stereo Sanctity", Ben has reviewed the End of the road Festival which was held at the Larmer Tree Gardens in beautiful North Dorset inthe UK. Among a large amount of artists featuring Mercury Rev, Billy Childish and others, British Sea Power did a complete set of Jonathan covers. Here is the "Stereo Sanctity" report about the event but the report on the full festival can be found "here".

Speaking of which, perhaps the best moment of the whole festival goes as follows; after midnight on the Saturday, and we’re all a bit flagging energy-wise (well, I am anyway), looking for something fun to keep us going… so we’re crammed into this packed tent where apparently some kinda (clearly not very) secret musical happening is going to be a-transpiring. So, hey, apparently it’s some guys from British Sea Power and some of their pals and, with no disrespect intended to them as a band, this does not really fill me with faith in imminent good times… BUT, they take the stage, and they say, hello, we’re going to be playing a set of Jonathan Richman covers. And they do!

You know that feeling, when you’re in a situation of some kind – in this case, an unknown musical unit setting up to play - and you think ‘who knows, maybe something fun will happen here – prob’ly not, but you never know’, and then the universe knocks you flat by presenting you with something so, so, so, so, so much more fun than you could possibly have expected? Like, the absolute PERFECT thing you want to happen at that moment? – well it was a bit like that. They mostly did stuff of the first couple of post-Modern Lovers solo records – ‘New England’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’ and ‘Government Center’ and ‘The New Teller’ and ‘Important In Your Life’ and ‘Abominable Snowman In the Market’ and ‘Martian Martians’, as well as ‘Cornerstore’ and ‘The Girl Stands Up To Me Now’ from later in the great man’s career, and probably a bunch of others, I forget. ‘I’m A Little Airplane’ went down a storm too – I mean, it’s never really been a favourite of mine on record, but the appeal of getting drunk and yelling along at the top of your voice to a song that mostly goes “WANGITY-WANG!, WANGITY-WANG!” is never to be underestimated. And, moving from the ridiculous back to the sublime as only Jonathan can, they did ‘The Morning Of Our Lives’, absolutely note/word perfect to the version on ‘Modern Lovers Live’! I could have wept. I think I probably did. I think I might weep again now, just writing about it.

Go and do whatever you do, British Sea Power guys – even if you release twenty six albums of fascist speeches and reversed dog barks, I’ll love you forever for pulling this one out of the hat.

Ben Haggar

Thanks are due to Ben for having kindly given the authorization to reproduce his text and to my friend JC Brochard for having pointed out this review.