Jonathan Richman, once the unappreciated forerunner of American New Wave, is still rock 'n' roll's best example of an unspoiled, unaffected, primitive artist.
Last night at the Wax Museum, Richman's wavering vocals, naive subjects and bare-bones backup always threatened to fall apart. Yet his lack of self-consciousness in locating and sharing the most elementary emotions saved the songs. With his own crude, crayon-like approach, Richman gave one of the year's most moving concerts.
It was easy to laugh at Richman's off-key notes and spoken, almost childish, monologues--and people often did. Yet as they waited for him to give some sign that it was all a camp routine, the sign never came. Over the hall settled an uneasy sense that Richman was disregarding craft to expose his most unprotected feelings. This led to an astonishing empathy as listeners recognized themselves in jerry-rigged songs about aging, jealousy, loneliness and affection.
Opening the show was Streetcorner Symphony, a local a cappella doo-wop quartet that performed breathy, feathery four-part harmonies on vintage songs by the Dell-Vikings, Drifters and Temptations. The group recreated the banter and ambience of urban alleys circa 1957 by pitching pennies, picking pockets and engaging in good-natured one-upmanship.