Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 1:25 pm | Fair 60º


Jeff Moehlis: Jonathan Richman Was Dancing in a Goleta Bar

Former Modern Lover plays and dances to quirky songs at the Mercury Lounge

Jonathan Richman’s place in rock-and-roll history is ensured by his membership in and songwriting for The Modern Lovers, whose debut album was produced by ex-Velvet Underground multi-instrumentalist John Cale and was belatedly released in 1976.

This album influenced the emerging punk rock sound and features such classics as “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso,” the first recently referenced by M.I.A. in the song “Bamboo Banga” and the latter somewhat recently covered by David Bowie.

Richman’s later albums moved away from the Velvets-inspired proto-punk of The Modern Lovers’ debut, and he quickly developed into a “quirky singer with an acoustic guitar.” It was this incarnation of Richman that delighted the packed audience Monday night at the intimate Mercury Lounge in Goleta.

For starters, I must say that it was good to see such a healthy turnout for Richman’s show, especially after his criminally underattended show at the Majestic Ventura Theater almost exactly two years ago. As for the Ventura show, Richman sang and played acoustic guitar, and was sympathetically accompanied by longtime drummer Tommy Larkins.

The show started with “When We Refuse to Suffer,” with an upbeat rhythm and such lyrical gems as “When we refuse to suffer / When we refuse feel / We get the discount rate / But we stay in a hotel room that we hate,” and “When we refuse to suffer / When we refuse feel / We are saccharine, we are aspartame / We are Nesquik.” During this song, Richman also danced in his uniquely amusing way and shook some sleigh bells. After this first song, I think most of us already felt that we had gotten our money’s worth.

Jonathan Richman performs “I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar” at the Mercury Lounge in Goleta

But there was much, much more, including other hilarious songs such as “If You Want to Leave the Party, Just Go,” a tale sung in Spanish (with extemporaneous English translations) of a reluctant visitor to a brothel, which segued abruptly into a spirited tribute to Keith Richards that celebrated his guitar playing’s “internal melodies and minor sixth harmonies”; and crowd-favorite “I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar,” in which he went into the audience playing a cowbell and returned with a bra draped over his shoulder that he tossed behind Larkins’ drum kit — as if this happened at every concert — and carried on. If Christopher Walken wasn’t successful at convincing you to use “more cowbell,” maybe the prospect of women taking off their bras will.

There were also some surprising covers: James Brown’s “Doing It to Death” with the classic lyrics “Gonna have a funky good time,” plus snippets of The Isley Brothers’ sing-along “Shout!” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Moreover, the multilingual Richman sang one song in Italian (whose title, he said, translates to “Cities Stupendous and Miserable at the Same Time”) and one in French. Plus, there were some more “serious” and delicate songs such as “Behold the Lilies of the Field” and “O Moon, Queen of Night on Earth,” one of several songs performed from his latest album.

Whether singing, giving amusing intros to songs, dancing while Larkins jammed on the drums, strumming guitar, or playing bells of the sleigh or cow variety, the charming Richman was a joy to behold, bringing infectious good time vibes to share with the adoring crowd. Encore!

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site,

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