The Spin 

Between the bitter winds, freezing temperatures, rain, sleet and flurried snow, we had every reason to stay home last week, but none of these things matter when proto-punk living legend Jonathan Richman comes to town.

Double doseBetween the bitter winds, freezing temperatures, rain, sleet and flurried snow, we had every reason to stay home last week, but none of these things matter when proto-punk living legend Jonathan Richman comes to town. Almost exactly one year since he last stopped through town, we got another two nights of Jo-Jo, again at The 5 Spot. It must have slipped our minds that he kicked things off mighty early last year, as we showed up around 9 p.m. the first night to find not only that we’d missed the first of his sets, but also that there was both an ambulance and fire truck waiting outside. Apparently, the companion of the Scene’s very own Sean Maloney took a nasty spill—but fear not, she was back on the barstool the very next evening. Taking the weather and the midweek scheduling into consideration, there was a decent sized crowd inside waiting for Richman’s second set. He approached the stage and launched straight into a series of songs without saying a word until midway through the set. Aside from the lack of banter, many songs felt a little hurried, but were no less entertaining. Several times he stopped midsong, deciding to play another instead. As if telepathically hardwired to Richman’s psyche, loyal sidekick Tommy Larkins skipped not a beat and followed each of his random whims and changeups right on time. Though he isn’t much for requests, Richman manages to squeeze a comprehensive sampling of his vast catalog into a short set. We got an updated, slightly improvised version of “Here Come the Martians,” as well as spanking new additions like his latest, “Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild,” which already feels just as classic as his well-worn favorites. The next night, we cut off the TV before LOST could suck us in, and headed to Five Points early. Richman seemed in much better form this time, stopping between what seemed like every other song for a drum solo/dance interlude. Larkins would break into a muted blast of beats and Richman would jingle handbells and gyrate about the stage for minutes at a time. Like some kind of punk-rock Jimmy Buffett, Richman inspires listeners to leave their harsh realities behind for an hour or so and join him in a world where love holds top priority, and every smell, taste and emotion should be savored for as long as it takes. Much like Picasso, van Gogh, Vermeer and the other painters he immortalizes in song, Richman paints brilliant and vivid portraits of the sights, sounds and sensations he re-creates. With so much seasoned charisma and entertainm ent value, we couldn’t help but leave confused as to why this man isn’t hosting The Tonight Show instead of touring the world in a minivan.

Being there

Sometimes we struggle with Sunday night shows. Like the always-insightful Elaine Benis from Seinfeld once put it, “It’s Sunday night, and I need to UNWIND.” This was especially true after a day of romping around in the wonderful weather on a slight hangover. (Go Hotpipes!) But we endured—filling our bellies with affordable nourishment from the new Calypso location in East Nashville and heading downtown to The Ryman to see a little band called Wilco. Man-o-man, was it worth it. We had kinda forgot how awesome Wilco is live. Well, they’re awesome. And the band was in top form—Jeff Tweedy rocked a sparkly white nudie suit (the same one he wore the night before on Saturday Night Live) and together with the rest of the crew, and dozens of instruments, played for almost two-and-a-half hours. Our miraculous powers of deduction helped us figure out that they were recording this performance—it must have been all the cameras—and that led to a career-spanning set that relied heavily on old classics. The most mesmerizing numbers were the ones that started slow and then swelled to wonderfully ear-splitting proportions: “A Shot in the Arm,” “Misunderstood,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” There were also some excellent quiet moments, notably Tweedy’s reprise of the let’s-all-get-real-quiet, no-microphones trick—this time for “Someone Else’s Song.” The alternately introverted and wisecracking Tweedy started off the evening quiet, but eventually let loose with a couple zingers. After a particularly high note he said, “You guys should have to pay extra for that note. You didn’t expect to come to a Wilco show and have a Mariah Carey concert break out.” In addition to some well-timed jokes, Tweedy applied the old adage that compliments will get you everywhere. He remarked over and over again how much he loves playing at The Ryman, even calling it, “the best place in the whole world to play.” The musicianship of the whole band really shone in the historic venue: Drummer Glenn Kotche is an evil genius and John Stirratt even got to sing one himself: A.M.’s “It’s Just That Simple.” Some of our favorite songs went unsung, but the strength of the set and the energy of the room silenced any complaints. We weren’t alone—by the end of the show the crowd was in a communal state of euphora. Not bad for a Sunday night.

Anyone going to SXSW without a badge or wristband? Tell us how to do it at thespin@nashvillescene.com.

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