Manchester Hop & Grape

Though adept across the frets, his words are even better. ..

For a man who once wrote a near nursery-rhyme about bees, and who defines twee for serious-minded rock critics, Jonathan Richman has a reputation for tetchiness. Tonight, however, he goofs around like he’s lovin’ life. And why not? Evidently, he’s still adored by certain 30-somethings, their enthusiasm possibly reignited by Richman’s appearance in [I]There’s Something About Mary[/I].

A leading figure on America’s ’70s punk scene, Jonathan’s weapon was always wilful eccentricity, not noise. Tonight, he’s accompanied by a lone drummer as he coaxes ’50s rock’n’roll, Velvet Underground-esque exotica and tremulous, almost flamenco flourishes from his acoustic guitar. Though adept across the frets, his words are even better. The breadth of subject matter: ‘Fender Stratocaster’, ‘That Summer Feeling’, ‘I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar’, is in sharp contrast with the narrowness of most lyricists. But, more than that, for all Jonathan’s wide-eyed innocence, he’s subtly cynical, self-deprecating and, particularly when discussing relationships, as sharp and as funny as Woody Allen. Tonight’s bravura moment is ‘Vampire Girl’, with the immortal chorus, “Does she cook beans? Does she cook rice? Does she do ritual sacrifice?”

Pure genius. He’ll probably be back for more gigs in a couple of years’ time. Don’t miss him.

Tony Naylor