The World According to Jonathan Richman...

OK, so I didn't pay $100-plus for the concert-as-Roman-circus on Friday night at the Verizon Center to see Lady Gaga change from outrageous costume to even more outrageous costume, gyrate with her bevy of dancers, play her flaming piano, and exhort the masses to be themselves (that is, just like her). But the next evening I did pay $15 (plus the outrageous Ticketfly fees, curse them and their parasitic ilk) to go to the 9:30 Club to see two men on a bare stage, one in a saggy turtleneck playing a simple drum kit with a bongo for the snare, the other laying his jacket onstage as if it had his license and cash in it and he didn't have anyone backstage to leave it with.

The drummer was Tommy Larkins and the man with the acoustic guitar was Jonathan Richman, and they waded straightaway into the Modern Lover's "Old World." In college (B.U.!), listening to that one glorious Modern Lovers album over and over, I used to worry about Jonathan, obsessing over a g-i-r-l-f-r-e-n, and always falling for the wrong girl, either she was mentally disturbed or else in love with some stoned hippie. But it turns out that songs like "Government Center" and "Pablo Picasso" were much more indicative of the direction he would take, and solo he went on to give the world goofy, singable ditties like "Corner Store," about the demise of the mom and pop shop, and my personal favorite, "You're Crazy for Taking the Bus" ("Well, a welfare gal and her drunk galoot/And no one wearing a three piece suit/You meet folks this way you just don't see while flyin/So you take the plane but I'll take the bus this time).

Besides "Old World" and "I Was Dancing at the Lesbian Bar," he played mostly newer songs because, as he explained after a plant in the crowd yelled out, "Play some of the oldies!", his newer songs conveyed fresh emotions and feelings, and old emotions got hard and crusty "in the wrong way," like day old bread, from thence starting into "Es Como el Pan." He performed songs from his latest album, O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth, more gentle musings on a world fast disappearing to the Lady Gaga, explosion-as-spectacle sensibility of the world. Our bodies, even if they are aging, yearn in "These Bodies Came to Cavort" to bend and move beyond just the narrow routine of sitting, standing, and lying down to which people normally restrict themselves. To illustrate, he carefully placed his guitar on the ground and danced about with childish, unchoreographed abandon, with knee bends and hip shakes and even a split-legged jump, spontaneous and ridiculous and beautiful. In fact, throughout the 70 minute show, he would put down his guitar to caper about or else pick up a cowbell or sleighbells, sometimes hesitating, like a child in the throes of competing impulses, over whether to pick up the bells or dance. Lacing his songs with spoken bits, witty observations, funny remembrances, call and response instructions, he bopped through songs with titles like "If You Want to Leave Our Party Just Go," "My Affected Accent," "No One Was Like Vermeer," and "Keith Richards" ("Whether in velvet or velveteen, in sports jacket or dirty blue jeans..."). He exhorted the audience to accept pain and sorrow as natural human emotions and not suppress them with modern drugs ("some people really need Prozac but others take it just so they don't have to ever feel bad, and you know who you are...") in "When We Refuse to Suffer." He thanked his parents for dropping him off in Harvard Square with his pretentious art portfolio and to let him take his own path in a song titled (I think), "The Door to Bohemia."

Throughout the show the audience had great big, silly grins plastered on their faces, with frequent eruptions into pure, delighted laughter. Lady Gaga may talk about getting in touch with your inner freak, but she hides behind her outlandish costumes and pyrotechnics. Jonathan Richman is out there, simple and unadorned, shimmying and shaking like a naive Elvis, slapping and strumming his guitar, leaving us with a smile on our lips, a shake in our hips, and a sweet song in our hearts.

*special thanks to Alice Stephens for contributing this review*

Photo by kata rokkar/flickr


Anonymous said…
You got it right Alice. Viva la Yonatan!!!