He may have once been in love with the modern world (and loved the old one) but Jonathan Richman, the former small town, perpetually disappointed romantic, that once fronted the Modern Lovers, stood before a sell out crowd in Festaal with a parlour guitar and a drummer called Tommy (or perhaps Paul, as he was introduced later in the set with a condescending gesture) and seemed distinctly ambivalent.
The Modern Lovers, were something more than just the antidote to the Velvet Underground’s drug haze, the big town sleaze that Richman always despised, they had a vitality that suggested that maybe staying home and eating health food instead was the better option. When the Pistols covered Roadrunner they gave up half way through……Sid, “I hate this fucking song.” Clear then that this evening was always going to favour Apollo over Dionysus.
A spry man in black with a greying goatee, Richman, ever so self depreciatingly, ever so quietly and ever so modestly, plucked out jazzy low key imprecations, penny sermons and warnings against the evils of plastic bottles, cellphones, modernity and nostalgia.
His voice was sweet and not yet fragile, the writing sharp as ever and the minimal presentation well suited to accentuating it. The audience were attentive, laughing at his small jokes, apparently overwhelming him with their warmth. He seemed to mock his own propensity for complaint with a sly shrug of the shoulders before teasing the crowd with a false start.
Paul/Tommy, somewhere close to the close, is prevailed upon to “do something with the cymbals for me” and Richman breaks into a little scat dancing routine and then, “Hey, I love this nightclub. It’s the first time we’ve been to Festys.”
Although the faux espanol jazz has someone behind me whistling along obliviously, the sense that this was cabaret, sincerity served up with a small slice of indigestible ham, was unavoidable.
There is a difference between minimalism and false modesty. A priggish disdain for humanity’s little weaknesses might go a long way to explaining why it has taken him so long to figure out that in order to be loved, first you have to love.