I could only imagine the shock of someone who knew nothing about Jonathan Richman seeing him perform. His childlike charm, the obscure subject matter of his songs and the frivolity of his singing and dancing, would surely shock someone expecting your more traditional singer-songwriter.
But, there’s no denying that Richman is a national treasure, and any true rock music fan, especially one with an appreciation for its history, would never pass on the opportunity to see him live. Yours truly is sure glad he spent a Thursday night with Jonathan at the “Beast” in East Nashville.
All this is not to say that I have generally been somewhat apprehensive about Mr. Richman. One can’t help but wonder how much of his unique off-beat personality is “in-character.” Much like the late comedian Andy Kaufman, the fact that you never see him out of said character what makes me wonder.
When the doors opened at 7pm for the 8pm show, there were only a handful of us in attendance. I was quite surprised when the man in the perennial black and white striped shirt walked by on his way backstage and later returned to engage in conversation. His topic was whether we agreed that the pre-show rap music was a poor choice and did we think he should change the music. While he said liked the beat, he didn’t care for the rapper’s repeated use of “mother-this and mother-that.” Our small group said that we’d welcome the change, and we were then surprised when he cheerfully posed for some photos.
That small crowd slowly swelled and by showtime, the room was packed with a few hundred folks of all ages, shapes and sizes. From my front and center vantage point, I turned around and beamed a smile, happy to see Jonathan getting such great fan support here in Music City.
Tonight’s performance was about as Jonathan Richman as you’d suspect. The expected eccentricity started with the unannounced opening set by a delightfully-talented Venezuelan songstress from Athens, GA who treated us to some pretty songs sung in her native tongue.
Richman then treated us to 80 minutes of music accompanied by his long-time drummer Tommy Larkin who as usual, kept a steady beat and never uttered a syllable. There is a new Richman record from which he did three songs, and the rest of the set was of recent vintage. I guess that’s one thing that surprises me with him is that I’ve never seen him play any of his Modern Lovers classics. (Tonight, though he did work in an updated version of “Old World.”)
Surprisingly, his best-known song and fan favorite has become 1992’s “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.” It sure a great song and a fun part of the set, but why in the world does he not do “Roadrunner?” “Roadrunner,” recorded in 1974 with the Modern Lovers, is flat out one of the greatest songs of all time and is one that many claim to be the first punk rock song. I’ve never had the guts to ask him why he never plays it, and am clueless as to why he doesn’t.
Aside from the great music from a man who still sings as good as he did when I first saw him some 40 years ago, there’s also always something out-of-the-ordinary coming from Jonathan. Tonight, it was when he mentioned that he asked for the air conditioning to be kept off since he doesn’t like interfering with the sound. But, after he felt that it was getting too hot for our safety, he had it turned on for 10 minutes!
It was a wonderfully entertaining performance as I would expect from Jonathan. He’s 66-years old now, but I somehow suspect he’ll continue to make great new music and play live for a long time to come. And that thought makes be as happy as I feel when I’m at one of his shows.
- Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild
- No One Was Like Vermeer
- That Summer Feeling
- Ishkode! Ishkode!
- Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow
- I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar
- Old World
- Le Festa e Galactica
- Whoa! How Different We All Are
- A Penchant for the Stagnant
- My Baby Loves Loves Loves Me
- People Are Disgusting
- Love is Underneath
- O Why Do You Roam?
- Oh Sun!
- Sad Trumpets Afternoon
- Crazy Love (Van Morrison cover)
- They Showed Me the Door to Bohemia
- When We Refuse to Suffer
- These Bodies That Came to Cavort
Jonathan Richman—Vocals and Acoustic Guitar