Jonathan Richman: Washington Starr Hill Music Hall

Legendary new wave troubadour Jonathan Richman still confused...

There certainly is something about Jonathan Richman. Although the cult icon is approaching the half-century mark, the man still commands the same attention that he once did playing in the parks and hospitals of his native Boston. Most intriguing is the generational gap that Richman bridges. Young indie rockers mingle with elderly hipsters in one surreal panorama. The theme of the evening is romantic love. Whether it is a ‘lesbian bar’ scene, a place for the insecure boys/men to find solace, or a meat market, all are welcome in Richman’s house.

Before his set, bad modern pop and old school hip-hop painfully blast through the house PA. According to the sound engineer, Richman has requested this bizarre mix. Such manoeuvres make perfect sense to those familiar with his eccentric tendencies. As ‘Mambo No. 5’ thankfully fades into the ether, a cartoonish, clean-cut character dressed for excess and his bearded cohort take the stage. Do acoustic power duos exist?

Percussionist Tommy Larkins keeps a heartbeat-like rhythm with his custom-made stand-up kit. Shades of the Velvet Underground’s Mo Tucker are apparent. Richman chooses not to hold back the classic hits. ‘Old World’ and an extended remake of ‘Pablo Picasso’ – complete with hilarious spoken word shenanigans – surface early on. Newer tunes ‘Nineteen In Naples’ and ‘I’m So Confused’ shed light into the present incarnation of Richman’s persona, and amazingly, the bard is even able to weave James Brown’s ‘Get Up (Sex Machine)’ into a medley. Incredible!

Sadly enough, ‘Road Runner’ never makes it into the set. Not a huge surprise. Nevertheless, an unforgettable performance from one of rock’n’roll’s patron saints.

Bret Booth