A True Original at The Bowery Ballroom

June 14th, 2012

Jonathan Richman – The Bowery Ballroom – June 13, 2012

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

Jonathan Richman is a unique musical specimen: punk-rock OG turned oddball troubadour. It is a switch that true fans scarcely mention, as they faithfully follow his artistic whims, but it is significant nonetheless. Because behind the appearance of a remarkably svelte 61-year-old crooner is a mischievous Boston-accented outsider—an original cult hero. Only his freakishly toned forearms show the impact of four decades on the road. The rest of Richman’s form and performance is gobs of childlike enthusiasm washed down with gulps from the fountain of youth. And with eyes fixed to the back of the room and beyond, his self-possessed concentration draws all surrounding bodies into a bizarrely gratifying orbit.

With faithful drummer Tommy Larkins at his side, Richman strummed, sang, danced and joked his way through an hour and a half of material last night at The Bowery Ballroom. It began with “The World Is Showing Its Hand,” from Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love, and ended, after two wildly enthusiastic encore calls, with “When We Refuse to Suffer,” from Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild. In between, Richman blended a collection of songs that either left the audience open-mouthed and amused or actively joyous, especially for an extended version of “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.” It was a crowded and sweaty affair, as the air-conditioning was initially turned off at Richman’s request, but after a brief intermission, he acquiesced to all the needs of his audience: The air turned on and the songs kept coming. —Jared Levy