Editors' pick

Jonathan Richman

Rock
'

Editorial Review

David Malitz reviewed a February 2007 Jonathan Richman performance for The Washington Post:

Look at any audience member at a Jonathan Richman show: a grown-up rocker, a teenager who likely just discovered Richman's influential early '70s proto-punk group the Modern Lovers, a suburban mom or an elementary-school-age tyke -- and there were plenty of each at the 9:30 club Friday night. And what you'll see is a smile. Richman's charms are easily appreciated and were on full display on this evening.

The 55-year-old Richman, armed on this night with a nylon-string acoustic guitar and accompanied by his longtime drummer Tommy Larkins, gets by on a sort of sincere silliness. Songs like "Here Come the Martian Martians" and "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar" aren't meant to be taken seriously, but are catchy thanks to Richman's playful cadence and flamenco-style playing. His dance moves, mostly some kind of herky-jerky hula, can kindly be described as goofy. But there's nothing at all campy about what Richman does onstage, and the joy that radiates from him is infectious. The smiles in the crowd often turned into full-fledged guffaws, especially during "Let Her Go Into the Darkness" when in mid-song he launched into a dialogue between ex-lovers -- playing both male and female roles -- and, once he finished, repeated the same conversation in Spanish. And Italian. And Hebrew.

For all of the credit Richman gets for setting the stage for punk (and, let's be honest, emo) with the Modern Lovers some 30-plus years ago, he's proven to be just as influential in another suddenly booming genre -- parent-friendly kids' rock. He may not be intently going after that market like Dan Zanes or They Might Be Giants, and his songs may hold a few PG-13 moments, but they are lighthearted, good-natured and, as with set closer "Walter Johnson," might even teach you something. When he walked offstage to roaring applause, including from many kids at the balcony railing, it was clear that the cult of Jonathan will continue for at least another generation.