Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Jonathan Richman @ The Music Hall of Williamsburg

For many, Jonathan Richman will always be that guy who played funny songs in the Farrelly brothers 90s comedy "There’s Something About Mary". If you’ve seen that movie, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of music Richman produces: acoustic ballads that focus on the minutia of life and love.

That is a pretty accurate description of the majority of Richman’s work in a career that spans over 40 years. Some might write off his contribution to popular music as trivial, but that is hardly fair. His band The Modern Lovers are widely credit with influencing the emerging punk scene both in America and the UK. I’m not sure how true that may be, but listening to that groups signature tune 'Roadrunner', one can perhaps see the connections.

Last night I journeyed into the dark heart of Brooklyn to witness the final night of Richman’s three night residency at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. A quaint little venue with an appealing bar underneath the concert hall with reasonably priced beer including happy hours before and after the set, even if the staff can be a bit inefficient in serving a beer drinking twit like myself (it had to be said – I missed the first two songs of Jonathan’s set due to said inefficiency).

Despite my fondness for Richman’s eccentric back catalog, I had approached this gig with some trepidation. I knew that it would only be him and a drummer, and I was skeptical that he could fill one and a half hours with songs about Ice Creams without seeming a little bit tired. Well folks, in the end, I was proved wrong, because what followed was something truly enjoyable.

Jonathan rolls through an array of songs, drifting seamlessly from his Modern Lovers days into his extensive library of solo material. The highlight of the night has to be Richman’s tribute to Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer ('No One Was Like Vermeer') which is punctuated with clever little lyrics explaining that Vermeer’s 17th century paintings felt "more like 1897 or 1910". 'Vermeer..' segues into a brief rendition of 'Egyptian Reggae' before drifting into the only Something About Mary track of the set 'Let Her Go Into the Darkness'. The crowd goes mental when Jonathan strums the opening chords of 'I was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar' and joins in at the appropriate moments, much to Richman's obvious delight. Modern Lovers track 'Pablo Picasso' is also performed with similar aplomb.

"Pablo Picassso was never called an asshole"

Keeping time with percussionist Tommy does not seem to be a high priority. Strangely it seems suitable to Richman’s randomness. Tommy expertly changes rhythm to account for Richman’s impulsive little dances and cowbell solos. All of this proves highly amusing. Even more amusing is Richman’s constant claim to the audience is that "this is not a concert, you can do and say anything you want." Someone calls his bluff, being Valentines Day and all, and hands Richman a bundle of roses.

I don’t claim to know every single song in the setlist. There were a few songs sung in a mixture of English/Spanish/French as Richman is known to do, and a lot of songs about love and love lost. Disappointingly for me, none of "Her Mystery Not Of High Heels and Eye Shadow" appears ('Springtime in New York' would have been almost appropriate).

Despite this, the show was not only funny, engaging and delightfully indulgent in nostalgia, it also served to demonstrate that songs about eccentric subjects such as renaissance art and beaches and buying a pair of jeans can be as enjoyable and powerful as those who write songs about 'serious' subjects like war or politics. Thats what music is all about, having a good time.

With that, I leave you with a dancing camel.

Thanks to Lisa for allowing me to use her pictures!

No comments: