Home / Concert Reviews / Jonathan Richman @ Shank Hall
Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

Jonathan Richman @ Shank Hall

Nov. 14, 2013

jonathan richman 2013 shank hall concert review
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In the pantheon of musicians whose artistic legacies hinge almost entirely on just one album, Jonathan Richman is right up there with The Violent Femmes. Richman’s self-titled 1976 debut with The Modern Lovers is one of the great records of its era (or any era, really), an open-hearted celebration of rock ’n’ roll that laid the groundwork for the first generation of punk. Yet as important as that album remains, it has little to do with the artist that Richman became. By the late ’70s, Richman had already left loud guitars and youthful angst behind. He’s spent the ensuing decades touring behind an older-fashioned, proudly innocent style of acoustic rock ’n’ roll, traversing the country with his longtime drummer Tommy Larkin and growing ever more out of time. He doesn’t use computers or cell phones, and doesn’t even watch television, he told the audience during some of his many half-crooned, half-spoken monologues at Shank Hall Thursday night. His world is a simpler, purer place—an impossible ideal for most of the crowd, but what a treat it was to visit it for a little while.

Like all of his performances, Richman’s show Thursday was loose and impulsive, with the singer either abridging his songs or extending them depending on his mood and the audience’s response. When a song wasn’t working for him, he moved on quickly—he began his set by dropping two of his best songs, “That Summer Feeling” and “Let Her Go Into the Darkness,” nearly as soon as he started them—but when the crowd was smiling, laughing or clapping, he’d treat them to extra, improvised verses, draw out the groove or step away from the mic to shake out a little dance while Larkin held down the beat.

With his gift for crowd work, he sometimes came across more like a comedian than a musician—an impression buoyed by his thick Boston accent and childlike stammer, which lend him the presence of an unusually sweet Adam Sandler character—but his jokes weren’t jokes per se. Instead they were gentle ruminations on life. He spoke of the comforts of changing seasons and of long, lazy mornings reading on the couch with a loved one; the need to escape office chairs and give our bodies the movement they require; and the importance of connecting face-to-face with actual, living, breathing people. All these messages were profound in their simplicity, but more effective for it, since Richman never came across as preachy. He’s just a content guy who’s discovered a value system that works for him, and he’s happy to lend that wisdom to anybody willing to listen.