About halfway through Jonathan Richman’s hour-long set at the Bluebird Theater on Tuesday night, he proclaims, “We don’t do concerts; we do parties.”
Richman is running through “Dancing at a Lesbian Bar” with drummer Tommy Larkins (who’s been with the singer for 24 years), laying into a crisp funk beat. It's one of many drum breaks of the night where Richman drops his guitar and does something of an interpretive dance that’s part dad shimmy and part, well, something that only the eccentric Richman can do while shaking maracas and the occasional sleigh bell.
Whatever the hell he's doing when he isn’t singing or playing the shit out his nylon string guitar, it looks like he’s having fun, flashing a sporadic smile. And, yeah, for just two guys, they’re bringing a party to a mostly full Bluebird. And at this party, we’re listening to the most interesting dude in the room.
He's a guy who sings in three languages, a guy who kicks things off singing about the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer before going into how “that summer feeling is gonna haunt you one day in your life," a guy who mentions “Sad Trumpets of Afternoon” before telling us about how “People Are Disgusting” and how they leave little pieces of hair with gel on the sink. Every so often he’ll drop lyrical gems like, “There’s a root-beer-brown quality to her voice.”
Tommy Larkins and Jonathan Richman.
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Later, Richman lets us know what happens “When We Refuse to Suffer.” A lot, apparently, in addition to what’s on the original recording from 2008, Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild. It seems like he’s riffing, dropping lines like, “If we won’t suffer, if we won’t feel, porno is possible but not Michelangelo." And somewhere in there, he talks about how he’d rather smell dog shit than air freshener, because “those air freshener things in the fabric softeners, they give me a headache. I get dizzy. I can’t eat. It makes me sick to my stomach.”
While Richman’s not a fan of fabric softener, he’s not so fond of technology, either, whether it's “the typewriter with the screen on top of the thing,” or the fact that he doesn’t have “that thing that sits in your pocket and all the sudden rings” or “that little TV that goes off in your hand.” He tells us that in “Take Me to the Plaza,” and says he’d rather see people actually on the plaza, “where people get together at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night, selling stuff, drinking coffee and chatting.”
And we envision Richman, the fascinating cat that he is, talking in Spanish with folks on some plaza in Mexico, with one of them asking what he does back in the States. He says, “I suffer,” which makes us all laugh. Sure, Richman knows how to suffer. But the dude also knows how to host a great party.