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Richman, Poor Man

I worry about Jonathan Richman. I know we all like to think of him as Happy Happy Fun Man, singing songs about Little Dinosaurs and Leprechauns and parties in the USA, but there's that other side of him, too--the forlorn, brooding Jonathan Dark Half that reaches all the way back to songs like "Hospital" and "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste" from his Modern Lovers years.

You can usually see a little bit of this in concert, when Jonathan stares out with a hangdog expression that says, perhaps, "Man, it really was great dancing at the lesbian bar. I sure miss it. A lot." It's just that you're having such a great time at his show that you assume this apparent pathos is really only meant to be entertaining and cute. But let me tell you, standing just three or four feet away from him at Henfling's last Wednesday, I got a big ol' heaping helping of JDF from looking into those big pioneering-indie-rocker eyes for the whole show. (OK, I realize everyone around me probably thought he was staring at them, too, but damn it, they can tell their own story about it.)

Is Jonathan in a funk? It's hard to tell when the show itself is still so relentlessly fun. The guy is always unpredictable live, and this time he produced a laid-back, ramblin' version of "Rooming House on Venice Beach" and turned "Vampire Girl" into a particularly anthemic sing-along. His relatively recent fixation on flamenco and Mexican folk guitar styles continues to deepen, to the point where the openings of several old songs kind of sound like "Yo Tengo Una Novia"--which, ironically, he didn't play. But I've always held that you gotta love Jonathan Richman in Spanish.

I guess mostly what had me worried about the guy was when he did "Vincent Van Gogh"--which I have always considered the happiest song you could possibly sing about A Guy Who Cut Off His Own Ear--and added an alternate verse about how you can see the sadness dripping off Van Gogh's last paintings. Probably this concerns me so much because I have this theory that the song is really about Richman himself: "He loved life so bad that the world had to know ... So bad, so bad that the world had to know/The man loved life, folks, and he let it show." Only safety scissors for our pal Jonathan until further notice.

Steve Palopoli

Three for Three

I showed up early to the West Memphis 3 benefit at Moe's on Sunday to catch the Lonely Kings rocking out country-style as Gold, Guns and Guitars. Unfortunately, they didn't. Show up, that is. But Steve Griswold (a.k.a. the Griswold Trucking Project) gave us all ample reason for some whiskey drinkin' when he sang an upbeat song about a girl who gets kicked out of her home for smoking a joint and decides to move in with her grandma down South, who, it turns out, doesn't remember her because she's got Alzheimer's. Then she manages to meet her father, who, funnily enough, has brain cancer and dies a long, slow death! Man, I haven't laughed so hard since a pack of coyotes tore my entire family to shreds right before my 6-year-old eyes, it was that funny! Lightening things up a bit, The Devil Makes Three got things rollicking on the dance floor with an absolutely phenomenal and energetic set full of sweet three-part harmonies and fingerpickin' good times, ensuring their future as the band that one day everyone will love, or be promptly executed. By the time the Chop Tops hit the stage, everything was swimming in whiskey, and pretty much everyone had left--one of the perils of a Sunday night show. But they gave it their all regardless, burning through a bunch of songs from their new album Evil Six with raucous abandon. Rody Larsen and Shelby Legnon tore it up on the upright bass and guitar, but when Gary Marsh gets fired up on the vocals and stand-up drums, he is rockabilly--sort of in the same way that, say, Michael Jackson is fucked up.

Upcoming

MC Sayre of the Lost and Found Generation is celebrating his 22nd birthday with a party at the 418 Project on Feb. 18. Tickets are $6. The show will feature a slew of huge local talent, including live performances by Sayre and Coley Cole, Ashkeyz, Avie and Concept, The Moonies, Thunderhut and Genelec and Memphis Reigns. Urbanites stranded in Santa Cruz should also not be afraid to check out the organic live hip-hop of the Granola Funk Express at Moe's Alley Feb. 13 ($8-$10; 9pm).

Mike Connor

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From the February 12-19, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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