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Music Review: There’s Something about Jonathan

Cult music legend Jonathan Richman entertains a small Ventura crowd

In my opinion, one of the most clever opening lines from a rock and roll song is “Well some people try to pick up girls/ And get call a**holes/ This never happened to Pablo Picasso.”

This gem is from Jonathan Richman’s song, “Pablo Picasso” from the self-titled debut album by The Modern Lovers. Recorded mostly in 1972 under the production of ex-Velvet Underground multi-instrumentalist John Cale, this album was belatedly released in 1976 and helped to influence the emerging punk rock sound. Richman’s later albums moved away from the Velvets-inspired minimalist proto-punk of The Modern Lovers’ debut, as he developed into the quirky singer-with-an-acoustic-guitar that charmed fans who were lucky enough to discover him, and many who only heard — and saw — him in There’s Something About Mary.

On Friday night, Richman treated the criminally small (c’mon, the economy isn’t so bad that you can’t afford a $12 concert ticket, is it?) but enthusiastic crowd, ranging from ages 6 to 60, at the Ventura Theater to “Pablo Picasso” and other songs from The Modern Lovers and his solo career.

Richman, sans Modern Lovers but with subtle accompaniment from drummer Tommy Larkins, was in a playful mood as he strummed his guitar with flamenco flourishes, twirled his guitar, and sang songs about Vermeer, dancing in a lesbian bar, not having a cellphone, and trying to make a love connection as a 14-year-old boy with a 15-year-old girl in the winter with the cold telling him that he was too young. This last song, the funny and poignant “Older Girl,” was one of the highlights of his set, as was the instrumental “Egyptian Reggae” where he traded his guitar for a cowbell and “jammed” with Larkins to the crowd’s delight.

Another highlight — that happened in almost every song — was Richman’s outrageously amusing dancing, which often took him away from his microphones so that you could barely hear him sing or play. But what fun to see him swaying his hips while enthusiastically singing to himself!

Richman is a truly unique performer, and this may be the only concert I’ve attended in which every song brought a smile to my face.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB.

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