The Rock Show
I'm a Little Dinosaur
By Peter Koht
Jonathan Richman is the world's greatest entertainer. Say what you will about Elvis or Robin Williams when he was still on coke, Richman is the best. Talkative, hilarious and surprisingly limber, he's perfected the art of wry presentation.
Tommy Larkin, his drummer, is also pretty amazing. While less animated than Richman, he somehow manages to be a huge part of the show, even when sitting there stone-faced and throwing out the rock-steady tempos. Besides, the sport jacket with shades look never ages.
During one song Richman recited sides of an almost lover's quarrel in five languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew. "Those Frenchies think they're pretty smooth," he said, "but they got problems too."
Deftly taking surreptitious pulls from his flask between songs, Richman was in high spirits throughout the proceedings, frequently breaking into dance during the drum breaks. His version of "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar" was the highlight of the evening. Richman threw in high kicks and hip swivels that bridged the gap between Cantinflas and Elvis.
It was a shame that Richman got a short set in his opening slot for John Waters at the Rio. I would have paid good money to keep this man onstage. An hour was just not enough, so now I'm gonna have to go rent Something About Mary.
Play One for Tookie
Let's get this out of the way. When I was a grommet, I loved Charlie Hunter. Growing up as a huge Primus fan, I picked up Hunter's first record days after it was released because Jay Lane, Primus' old drummer, was on it. If it was possible to wear grooves in a CD, that disc would have had them. From "Fred's Life" through "Dance of the Jazz Fascists," I dug every tune on it.
One of the first times I borrowed the parents' Volvo was to drive up to the city to see the Ready, Set, Shango record release party at the Great American Music Hall. I even played hooky one Friday with my high school best friend to catch an in-store appearance at Amoeba. Charlie was a god in my jazz pantheon, and I loyally followed his career up until a few years ago.
Having skipped his last couple of holiday shows, I jumped at the opportunity to see Hunter at the Kuumbwa this year. I was nostalgic and truly excited to see one of my heroes. So I gathered my biggest guitar geek friend and set out to see some serious ax-wielding. But for the first time in the nearly 20 times I've shown up at a Charlie Hunter performance, I was really disappointed in what I saw.
Despite his prodigious skills and the packed house, this show felt off. Perhaps it's because during the first mic break, someone referenced an impending execution. Shouting out "Play one for Tookie" is a serious mood killer.
Even with boy wonder John Ellis on horn and keys, and the phenomenally talented Derek Phillips behind the kit, the songs felt overstuffed and overplayed. Everything was too long, too solo-heavy and featured way too much distortion. I love a good Tube Screamer as much as the next man, but it's not necessary to click it on during every jam.
It's as if Charlie forgot that just because you can do a thing, it doesn't mean that you should do it—let alone during every single song.
I feel bad writing this, as Charlie is a nice guy, a hard-working musician and not a sell-out in any regard. He's had a great career and has worked incredibly hard his entire life to master an instrument—the eight-string electric guitar—that seems almost impossible to get your hands around. But I really want him to turn down, chill out and get back to the kind of polyrhythmic interplay and good taste that he showed on the two duo recordings he put out with Leon Parker and his first solo record. He's capable of genius; it's too bad that at this performance he served it up with a steaming side of excess.
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