On September 25, 2011 I witnessed a rare gem of a performer who goes by the name Jonathan Richman. I only saw Jonathan Richman once before. That was in 1993 at the now defunct backstage Tavern.
Last night’s show, at another Ballard neighborhood tavern, was a rare treat. Jonathan Richman came on stage accompanied by just an acoustic guitar and drummer Tommy Larkens who wore a white scarf with horizontal black stripes to complement Jonathan’s signature white shirt with horizontal black stripes. Larkens looked somewhat like a seventies vintage Elton John but with darker hair and without the flamboyance. He kept things on an even keel with a soft and steady beat.
The sold out performance showed that Jonathan Richman has not been forgotten. Jonathan came on stage with just an acoustic guitar and opened with the title track of his last studio album (2010), O Moon, Queen of Night and Earth. Many of the songs he played were also from that album. All Jonathan’s songs are openly honest without being cynical. He sings about relationships and human behavior all sung with a twisted, almost child like sense of humor.
One such song from his latest album called If You Want To Leave Our Party, Just go, contained humorous lyrics like, “No need to stay just to be polite. We won’t ask any questions. We won’t write you a bad report card . . . At this point two girls in the back of the crowd began screaming, “We want to party with you. We love you!”
A few times Jonathan actually put down his guitar and played cowbells.
One of the funniest songs from the night was My Affected Accent about how in high school he was such a brat. I used big words and I talked through my hat. I said reclined when I should have said sat. I said aforementioned when I should have said that. I droned on like William F. Buckley does. I should have been bullied more than I was . . . This brought raucous laughs from the audience.
The final song, Sa Voix M’ Atisse, also from his latest album, was sung entirely in French. But he didn’t leave the stage for long. He returned for an encore and began pointing out people in the audience and singing lines about them. “See that girl with the digital camera. I bet she knows how to go on the computer. All right. See the girl with the tattoos. I bet she knows how to grow organic corn. See the guy with the pork pie hat on. He left his camera out on the lawn. But it’s all right. This elicited enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
The entire show lasted two hours for the rapt and appreciative crowd. Jonathan Richman’s music has spanned musical genres, even punk. His breakthrough single, Road Runner has been covered by the likes of The Sex Pistols and Joan Jett, but he also has had ties to John Cale and The Talking Heads.
His unique style of folky punk musical style combined with his quirky sense of humor, make Jonathan Richman one of the most unique and entertaining performers of the last three plus decades. As I said above, Jonathan Richman is a rare gem.