Thursday, 21 January 2010

631 JONATHAN RICHMAN, Mr. Bennett, Bristol Fleece, Sunday 11 April 2004

Continuing the retro phase of late; my first gig back after a 5 week hiatus to get my stomach hernia repaired is this intriguing acoustic interlude from a seminal 70's US New Wave figure, relatively unknown and unappreciated by UK audiences (and, until recently, by myself!). Richman's "cult" status, however, meant that after difficulty parking near the Fleece, we found the place already packed out on arrival! This audience made me feel quite young, being a gathering of serious musos, who judging by their manners obviously don't get out too much, I'm sorry to say...

Opener Mr. Bennett, a tall bloke with an acoustic, opened with a number decrying imitation; quite ironic really as he was doing a more than passable imitation of Richman himself with his overly complex wordplay and laid-back delivery. However, a nice, wryly delivered set, surprisingly short at 15 minutes!

We therefore had 45 uncomfortable minutes to wait until Jonathan Richman's arrival, promptly at 9. He cut a languid, unorthodox figure onstage; tall, rangy, at once worldly-wise yet younger looking than his 50+ years, and sporting a seemingly permanently worried expression, he twanged dextrously away at a deliberately loosely-strung acoustic, while drummer Tommy Larkins provided soft percussive embellishment, and occasionally a harder beat for JR to dance to. Languidly, of course! Musically, the set was an exercise in economy of expression, the stripped back approach unearthing the pure melody of the material. Jonathan's unusual, gauche delivery perfectly complemented the tales of lost love and teen alienation, with occasional lyrical visitations back to the Massachusetts of his youth. Thankfully, he delved back to that classic 70's first Modern Lovers album, playing "Girlfriend", "Old World" and "Pablo Picasso", but the stark simplicity of "That Summer Feeling" was my highlight of this set.

Cute, captivating and funny, this was another great set from another man proving age is no barrier to greatness. Also, as he passed through the length of the bar on the way backstage afterwards, I got to shake his hand; as the Rockingbirds said on "Jonathan Jonathan", their tribute to him, that's something I won't forget!

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