Monsters, vaginas, science fiction, shop-vacuums, pirates, robots: just a few of the topics covered last night at the Soiled Dove Underground, 7401 E. 1st Avenue, by Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm.
The geek-cred-cum folk musicians aren't known for their subtlety, but the energy and humor pulsing through the venue was impossible not to enjoy.
The Soiled Dove was packed full of visibly nerdy fans, ranging from the Dungeons and Dragons variety to the IT crowd, but they weren't quiet, nor were they subdued, this was their territory and they were loud, obnoxious and having one hell of a time. Paul and Storm took the stage with their usual opening number, "Opening Band," a song that always manages to get the crowd excited while poking fun at the very nature of their role.
From there, Paul and Storm let loose through a slew of songs, including a particularly memorable soft-rock ode to vaginas called "I Will Sing a Lullaby." Their best material tends to be their shortest, which was evidenced by spot on memorial tunes in the vein of James Taylor, Bob Dylan and They Might Be Giants.
Paul and Storm were stumbling through much of their set, not in a bad way, but because the audience was so raucous and invested in the band's songs, it grew increasing difficult for them to push through a few of them. Laughter was certainly not a missing ingredient for the night.
A short interlude followed Paul and Storm's closing number, "The Captain's Wife's Lament," a pirate sing-a-long that both required audience participation (we were tasked with hollering a variety of different variations on "argh") and is well known for derailing mid-way through into a variety of transgressions and jokes.
Coulton took the stage in a looking dejected. Or it's possible he just takes a little while to warm up himself. The crowd was certainly raring to go, jeering and shouting along as he came on stage and kicked off his opening song, "Millionaire Girlfriend." He quickly followed that with two more songs, before starting in on a new song about shopping with the wife.
This is Coulton's territory and where he succeeds best as a songwriter and performer. When he got into the new material he also was clearly settling into the show and having more fun. The new song he played, which he didn't give a name for is a dejected, semi-serious ode to the duties of adulthood and being a spouse. He poked fun at waiting outside of dressing rooms and carrying purses, but his ability to mix humor with genuinely solid songwriting is what has made him as popular as he is. Sure, he's funny, but he's also poignant.
Coulton's performance, viewed from a distance and without audio, would have just as easily resembled a Dashboard Confessional concert as a Jonathan Coulton one. The crowd was excited, singing along to every track and embracing Coulton in a way you just don't see that often these days. By the time Coulton got to his first big hit, "Code Monkey," the crowd was clapping, singing and joking along.
Paul and Storm joined Coulton for the middle of his set, which was laden with more new songs and peppered with a variety of his hits. There was a rather amazing tribute to soft rock by the trio, with "Soft Rocked," which hopped from Coulton's original song to "Like a Rock," "Tequila Sunrise," "Margaretville," and an epic, slightly embarrassing sing-a-long of an Alanis Morissette song I couldn't quite place -- it might have been three different songs at once. It ended with the frightening statement that "Bob Seger is the fulcrum of all music."
By the time Coulton got to his closing songs, both he and the audience were completely invested in each other. Coulton was able to hand over entire choruses to the singing crowd and the smile on his face was much wider than it was at the beginning. It was clear that everyone involved, the performers and the audience, were having one hell of a time. Coulton even challenged the audience after his last song to not clap, to instead remain silent if they wanted an encore. It worked well enough and he closed with a shoe-in hit for the crowd with a cover of They Might Be Giants' "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," before finishing off with "First of May," a song about, uh, fucking outside.
Coulton has always toed the line between the deadly serious and the seriously funny, but his new material is showing a songwriting maturity that wasn't evidenced by his early songs. It's more subdued, the jokes are hidden further down and he's clearly trying to tread new ground with his style. While it's particularly amazing to hear the entirety of the Soiled Dove Underground sing, "All we want to do is eat your brains," it was Coulton's new, unheard material that really resonated.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I enjoy the rare moment when I'm not the biggest dork in the room, which is why I wanted to go to this show. Random Detail: The couple next to me ordered some fancy desert while the rest of the audience (literally, everyone in the Soiled Dove except these two) sang along to "Re: Your Brains." By the Way: Coulton teased the audience by saying he'd play the theme song to Portal 2, but made up a song on the spot instead.
SETLIST Jonathan Coulton 01.22.11 | Soiled Dove Underground
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Millionaire Girlfriend Shop-Vac Ikea New song--something about shopping Code Monkey Big Bad World One Tom Cruise Crazy Down Today Always the Moon Soft Rocked Creepy Doll Mr. Fancypants Skullcrusher Mountain Now I am an Arsonist Sticking it to Myself Still Alive Re Your Brains
Cover of They Might Be Giants' "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" First of May