Review: Jonathan Richman at The Union

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If Jonathan Richman isn't the world's most unpretentious singer, he has to be in the top 10.

Case in point: Upon arriving at The Union Bar and Grill last night, Scott Winland (Union booking manager) told me that, earlier in the evening, Jonathan decided to help clean up the venue by grabbing a mop.

Not the usual behavior for a rock singer, much less one who has influenced an entire generation of punk and indie musicians. Then again, Richman has always done things his own way.

After ambling through the crowd with his guitar, Richman joined longtime drummer Tommy Larkin on stage for an evening of old favorites and newer material, interspersed with Italian lessons and hilarious commentary.

The sparse instrumentation (a cobbled-together drum kit and unamplified classical guitar) allowed Richman and Larkin to effortlessly switch musical gears, going from "Let Her Go Into The Darkness" into a snippet of James Brown's "Doing It To Death" and the Modern Lovers' "Old World."

Richman frequently left his microphone to serenade fans a cappella, bang a cowbell, shake sleigh bells or simply dance around sans guitar.

Throughout it all, he had a smile on his face. In fact, everyone in the venue had smiles on their faces, apart from Tommy Larkin, whose stoic demeanor made Charlie Watts seem like Keith Moon. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, Richman had the audience at "How ya doin'?"

Here's hoping for a return engagement.