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.
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 The top 50 cities for young people to live in
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils