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Jonathan Richman: Music’s TJ Maxx?

Posted by December 10th, 2013 No Comments »

Jonathan Richman Live @ The Continental Club, Austin, Texas
November 28-30, 2013
By PT Stinson
Photo by Austin Mod House 

“Write me 150 words,” Matty says.

“About what?” goes off the cartoon balloon above my head. Three nights in a row of Jonathan Richman at Austin’s famed Continental Club left me in a chirpy mood despite having never purchased an album or being able to refer to a single song by name. That is sort of the point. Memorable shows, even if you can’t figure out where the song starts and Jonathan Richman’s engagement with the audience begins.

Always on the edge of improvisation, Richman is unafraid. Unafraid to get lost on stage and if he gets lost, the audience will follow him wherever he goes.

Richman strikes the tone of an urban romantic over the course of the shows, all of which resulted in folks lining up outside the club 30 minutes before the doors opened. Professing that he is one-half of an “old married couple” Richman constantly heaps gratitude and praise on his drummer of twenty years, Tommy Larkin, whose solid presence and silence present an unintentional source of comic relief. Larkin is tasked with riding the tiger as structured songs take sharp detours into conversations with the audience.

‘No One Was Like Vermeer’ served as a constant highlight, always ending up in a discussion about shadow and light and just how much club wall would be consumed by Rembrandt’s epic Nightwatch. Sometimes there would be stories about an art book purchased in Marfa, Texas. Sometimes not.

Another song somehow descends into a discussion of the moon’s reduction to a second-class citizen by the overweening city lights of a big city. Between breaths is a romantic who wants nothing to do with smartphones – Richman longs for the days when sports events weren’t clogged up within an inch of their lives in advertisements. Those were the good old days, but no they weren’t. Women couldn’t vote, he notes. He doesn’t want to go back to those days. He doesn’t want to go back to the days of the pompadour and cummerbund.

Over the course of three days, Richmann proved himself to be the TJ Maxx of music, never the same way twice.

A sociologist, one moment. A historian or advice columnist the next. Singing sometimes in Italian, Spanish, French and a cappella –Richman while in delivery and tone very much the spitting sonic image of Lou Reed and David Byrne, lays claim to a Dean Martin kind of space that’s unapologetically romantic, singing on bended knee without touching the floor.

A master of shadow and light, Richman’s portraits seem timeless and fresh –except these portraits would be more Scooby Doo paintings with eyes following you, the songs and narratives always peering.

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