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Last time Jonathan Richman was in town, it turned out to be a bit of a head-cracking disaster for us -- so much so that when somebody knocked over a chair at the bar late last night we had a minor panic attack. Short of crash helmets and body armor, we were about as prepared as could be, though, having done a thorough overview of Mr. Richman's catalog, and actually showing up on time for once. We weren't nearly as prepared as we thought.
There's either a huge gap in our knowledge of the Modern Lovers' turn-of-the-century releases or he played a lot of new tunes. We'd check his website, but he's smart and hasn't succumbed to digital chicanery yet. And the thing is, even if you've seen him before or have devoted large chunks of your life to studying his work, he's got 40 years of music in his repertoire and doesn't need to rely on the shit he wrote in high school. And even if he did rely on those formative works there's a good chance that he'd goof on them so hard they'd be unidentifiable. And this, in a nutshell, is why we love a Jonathan Richman show -- he's far too busy being entertaining to let something like recorded versions get in the way.
He was grinning and strumming his acoustic guitar, frequently walking beyond the stage, beyond the little amplification he needed, making a point to look every audience member in the eye while drummer Tommy Larkins hung back and supplied the bop-she-bop for Richman's freewheelin' pop. When he slipped into español, even with his thick Boston brogue, his tales of reluctant brothel customers and their drunken buddies took on a European sheen -- thrown off only by impromptu aside en inglés. When Richman steers off course to explain what's going on in the songs, to further extrapolate the possibilities in the lyrics, those are the moments that make it worth leaving the house; he's like the wacky uncle that we want to be when we grow up.
After a great version of "Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild" delivered from in front of the stage, Richman slipped into "Egyptian Reggae," the instrumental tune that is arguably his biggest chart success to date, making sure to throw in a little Egyptian-style hand motion just for fun. Richman played a version of "Let Her Go Into the Darkness" that was closer to the original 1995 recording from You Must Ask the Heart than to the version from the There's Something About Mary soundtrack, with a good long drum solo from Larkins and some cowbell from Richman. They played one more new tune -- we'll call it "Hurricane"? -- and then decided to break for 10 minutes.
We were a little surprised that Richman came back from intermission with a version of King Harvest's 1973 classic "Dancing in the Moonlight," and it seemed like the rest of the crowd was taken aback, too. It took a moment before all the neurons fired and recognition set in. As far as song/artist pairings go, that one was a way better fit than we would ever have guessed -- we do get it on most every night, and we don't fuss and we don't fight -- but we were still a bit shocked by the selection. He followed it up with two more songs we're guessing are new -- and were a totally hip-shaking good time -- before launching into "Maybe a Walk Home From Natick High School." Interesting note: According to The Google, it was actually warmer in Natick, Mass., than it was in Nashville last night. Seriously, that shit is CA-RAY-ZEEEEE -- like, abominable-snowman-in-the-market crazy.
The night closed up with a tribute to Keith Richards ("Nobody plays like you / Not exactly blues, sorta European, too") and a fantastic version of "Not So Much to Be Loved But to Love" from the 2004 album of the same name. And while there were other songs that we wanted to hear, we understand that there are a limited number of hours in a day. But we are totally crossing our fingers and heading out again tonight. Two words: "Modern World."