Jonathan Richman, Academy 2, Birmingham
Tuesday 20 April 2004
Richman is best described as a naive minstrel, travelling with less and less as the decades roll past. The last few tours have found him accompanied only by drummer Tommy Larkins, wielding a battered acoustic guitar, refusing to be plugged-in and just brandishing his instrument in the general direction of a microphone stand.
In the early Modern Lovers years, the Velvet Underground shone as Richman's guiding light, but by the late 1970s, he had developed a unique style. Since then, Jonathan has not changed much, although he now seems faintly more devilish, slightly more worldly-wise.
Richman has always looked about 10 years younger than his actual age, so now he's just into his sprightly forties, in jeans and T-shirt, still trim and sporting a goatee. His mind, fortunately, retains its childlike wonder at the simple things in life, and this is a stance that Jonathan also adopts towards the complex things in life. For many years, we've wondered whether he's really so awe-struck by sheer existence, or whether he's always being slyly ironic. Ultimately, Richman is probably enjoying it on both levels at once. A significant change is his bodily liberation. Jonathan frequently dances over to the side of the stage while Larkins bashes out a rickety drum solo. A variety of mostly Latinised beats prompt various Pee Wee Herman-style hip-shakes and arm rotations. Richman also likes to twirl his guitar in circles, stopping the strumming to call out his verses.
His guitar style is close to that of Willie Nelson, full of emphatic phrases that are struck or scribbled with fluent yet interrupted grace. He avoids predictable constructions and has a markedly personal signature. The other evolutionary development is Richman's interest in multilingual delivery. Ten years ago, he sang a whole album in Spanish, but tonight he's also turning out songs in French and Italian. This is so non-USA. But Jonathan also exudes pure Americana, even if it frequently slips down south of the border. He does not mind playing the oldies, with "Pablo Picasso" slipped in at the start, followed up by a goose-pimpling "Vincent Van Gogh".
Richman transforms "Give Paris One More Chance" into a recounting of a dream he had when he was 17, an extended tale that garners a crowd singalong. Other songs prove more directly comedic, although "You Can't Talk to the Dude" and "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar" have morose undercurrents. At least "Egyptian Reggae" is uncomplicatedly happy. For his encore, Jonathan delivers an a capella version of "Walter Johnson", his paean to a childhood baseball hero.
The audience radiated genuine love during this intimate encounter. Richman inhabits the whole venue-space, silencing the audience, singing and playing off-mike as he seren-ades quietly. This looks set to be the year's most profound low-amplification experience.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures