Pop: Still teenage after all these years

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The Independent Culture


THE FARRELLY brothers' charming if tasteless comedy There's Something About Mary did more than just bring sperm-as-hair-gel and stalking jokes into the comedy mainstream. It also restored Jonathan Richman, Boston's nasal poet of love and loss and matters teenage, to the public eye after too long away, as he punctuated the plot with wise snippets of song.

With a new album of his gently swinging acoustic folk I'm So Confused due out next week and three sold-out nights at the Jazz Cafe - a swanky sort of concrete box where the glasses really are made of glass - his career is back on track. Deservedly so. Tuesday night's show, just Richman and the stand-up drummer Tommy Larkins - a curiously Bronsonesque figure in drainpipes - was wonderful. The crowd adored him, from the opener "Fender Stratocaster", a touching tribute to the world's favourite plank of wood in which Richman attempted to emulate great stylists (and hearing someone copy the surf guitar hero Dick Dale on an acoustic guitar will not soon be forgotten), to the concluding a cappella "Arrivederci Roma".

In between, he told jokes, repeatedly put down his guitar to dance erratically (always to huge cheers), mugged like Roberto Benigni, and generally charmed in a way unlikely in a forty-something man given to behaving like a hyperactive teenager, all to Larkins' pounding beat.

Richman's apparent naivete has long been part of the act, but his new songs seemed more like advice from an elder brother. "True Love Is Not Nice" is an incisive dissection of painfully explicable behaviour, though "Love Me Like I Love", with its plaintive complaint "when I was six years old/ I never dreamed I would grow up to feel isolated" proved an emotion too far for an easily embarrassed English audience. The lovely "I Can Hear Her Fighting With Herself", and the hilarious "Nineteen In Naples", with its wonderful talkover: "I'm checking in the pensione, it's 2am... the Italian guys are playing poker in their underwear... I'll never forget that", became instant favourites.

Older songs such as "Pablo Picasso", introduced by a workout far funkier than a drummer and one guitarist have any right to be, the knowing "Give Paris One More Try", and even a snippet of "Egyptian Reggae" (Richman's biggest UK hit, more than 20 years ago) were equally good, with the high spot his touching tribute to the Velvet Underground. Even if his comic Lou Reed impression did sound like Bob Dylan.

Great stuff. A room full of reserved adults, straining under responsibilities and male-pattern baldness, singing along to the chorus "I was dancing in the Lesbian Bar" was a fine sight. He's very special.