Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jonathan Richman @ Open Arts Stage Theater - Bordentown, NJ 03/22/14

This is how this is going to go down.  Many of you are going to tell me that you do not know who Jonathan Richman is.  Then I am going to call all of you liars.


Have you ever seen the movie Something About Mary???

Now, is this a fair representation of the genius of Jonathan Richman?  Absolutely not.  Let's go back to the beginning.

In 1970 Jonathan Richman formed the Modern Lovers in Boston MA.  They were strongly influenced by his love for the Velvet Underground.  Their songs outlined life in Boston and self induced awkwardness.  The band included Jerry Harrison, who would later join The Talking Heads, and David Robinson, who helped formed The Cars.  They were one of the first Proto-Punk bands of that time.  Shortly after their formation they were being courted by multiple record companies.  They did a series of Demos for Warner Bros. and A&M.  These were released after the bands breakup in 1976.  After doing a residency in Bermuda before their last two sets of recordings Jonathan was so inspired by the laid back style of the local musicians that we wanted to scrap everything and start all over.  The band didn't disagree but had wanted to record what they already had in the style they were created. The first set was disastrous.  They then did a second set with producer Kim Fowley which was eventually released in 1981 as The Original Modern Lovers.  The tension grew and the band split up in 1974.  Jonathan was now free to change his musical direction.  Although he does not acknowledge the songs of this era they have had a lasting impact.  Their song 'Road Runner'  had been covered by the Sex Pistols, Joan Jett, and Greg Kihn. 

Jonathan formed a new band and started recording in 1976 as Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.  He finally retired the Modern Lovers in 1988.  The new sound was laid back, lighthearted, humorous, and folk inspired.  Jonathan took poked fun at his awkwardness and made it an art form.  His story telling was inspiring.  His recordings were a glimpse into his life.  The stories were almost that which you would tell to a child.  Since then he has carried on that legacy for over 35 years.  He has stayed true to it.  I think it is safe to say without Jonathan Richman there would not be bands like the Violent Femmes or The Dead Milkmen.   He made it cool to be awkward and quirky. 

Flash forward to 2014.  Thanks again to Randy Now's Man Cave, Jonathan would be performing in Bordentown, NJ and he would also be doing an in store performance. I was able to get myself a ticket and I waited for the day.  When I walked in to the Man Cave Jonathan was talking to a fan.  I waited for my turn and asked him to sign a few autographs for me. 

I shared with him that I had been making my two boys listen to his music.   He quickly laughed and said, "Have you no mercy?".  I got a good chuckle out of that.  We talked about some of my favorite songs and he agreed to have his photo taken with me.

Right after that he picked up his guitar and started to play for us.  He requested that no photos be taken during the performance.  He played a small set including 'La Fiesta is Para Todos' and 'Summer Feeling'.  Afterwards when Randy reminded everyone that Jonathan would be in concert tonight Jonathan corrected him.  "I don't like to call them concerts.  Beethoven did concerts."

By request of Jonathan there were no chairs set out at the Open Arts Stage.  He prefers the audience to stand around him so that it is more intimate. 

***I Now Interrupt This Blog Post For This Message On Audience Courtesy***

 When Randy came out to make his announcements the crowd started to congregate in front of the stage.  I am 6' tall so I try not to stand directly in front.  I was in the front row but off to the side.  There was a 5' cushion between the audience and the stage.  An overly enthusiastic couple pushed their was to the left of me.  As we waited for Jonathan to come out the man to the left of me would take a scissor step in front of me so that his head was directly between me and the stage.  I took a step to the right so that I was standing next to him.  Again, the scissor step.  Again my step to the right.  The Do-Si-Do continued until eventually the 5' gap was gone and I was at the stage.  At this point he stood directly in front of me.  At no time did I stand in front of them or block their view even though I had been there first.  I tried to make light of it by saying every time I got a clear view he would block it.  The couple laughed at me.  Literally laughed.  They said that they were determined to get the best possible spot.  Before I freaked out and punched him I moved over to the middle of the stage and got a really good spot.  I apologize to anyone whose view I blocked.  If you are upset please feel free to punch the guy with the long beard and the tight wool cap.

***Now Back To Your Regularly Scheduled Blog***

Jonathan and Tommy came out and started to play.  They led off with 'Let Her Go Into The Darkness'

Without hardly a break he went from song to song.  Classics like 'Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow' and 'No One Was Like Vermeer'.  Jonathan was engaging to the audience, at one point asking us if photos being taken were bothering us.  He asked us to speak up and be heard. 

He gave constant nods and solos to Tommy Larkin.  His drummer of 20 years.

Jonathan's style lays somewhere between the 50's and Flamenco.  His guitar is strapless and plays quite often with a Flamenco flare.  He encouraged us to interact and his face lit up when we did.  It was somewhat childlike in nature.  He seemed in heaven when we were enjoying ourselves during songs like 'I Used To Like Trash On The Beach' and 'He Gave Us The Wine To Taste It'.  A true highlight was 'I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar'.

He was quirky, entertaining, awkward, vulnerable, and romantic.  He danced his dances.  He told his stories.  He made us laugh.  He stood in the audience and played cowbell while supporting Tommy.  He was wonderful.  He finished his set with songs sung in Spanish, Sicilian, and French.  After 15 plus songs and an hour and one half he said his good byes.  He seemed truly surprised at our ovation.  He came back out for a curtain call but that was it.  The show was over. 

Sometimes it doesn't take all that much for a wonderful show.  It doesn't take lights or loud music.  You just have to have something to say and be engaging.  By far the quote of the night was this, "I find the concerts I enjoy most are ones that I worry about the mental health of the performer at least twice during the night."  There is definitively something true about that.  

See you at the next show! 



  1. Sounds like a good show. I haven't listened to him in a long, long time, but I might have to go back and revisit. I love artists who really try to make their shows special for the audience, rather than just playing in front of them.

    1. It had been a very long time since I had listened to Jonathan and I had fun rediscovering his catalog. It was wonderful to see how into the show he was and the atmosphere he was trying to create. It was interactive and intimate. I would recommend seeing him if you get the opportunity.


Popular Posts