- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Jonathan Richman stood, arms crossed, eyes rolled toward the rafters, and refused to begin his encore until the 9:30 Club turned off the air conditioner. It had been revved up in anticipation of a horde of young bodies queuing outside for a Justin Timberlake late show.

Mr. Richman wasn’t finished yet. “We’ll wait,” he said. “It’s supposed to be hot in here.”

A couple of minutes elapsed, song requests were hollered, and Mr. Richman kept standing there. Then the audience started shushing each other.

“It’s OK — you can shout,” Mr. Richman said, still idling, the picture of nonchalance. But he wasn’t kidding about the AC; he wanted it switched off because “air conditioning doesn’t feel like Friday night.”

It was a classic Richman moment: a punky fit, pitched with a layer of oddly calm orneriness.

The guy’s a born showman, a bona fide humorist.

Filmmaking siblings Bobby and Peter Farrelly noticed this and used Mr. Richman and drummer Tommy Larkins (who played Monday night) to terrific effect as a pair of folk troubadours who wandered in and out of the narrative in “There’s Something About Mary.”

On Monday, Mr. Richman flaunted his showman credentials by re-enacting the battle of the sexes in five languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian and Hebrew.

Throw in an honorary sixth: Latin. He blessed the audience with a theatrical sign of the cross before parting.

A native Bostonian who cut his teeth in Manhattan, Mr. Richman has created a weird and affecting mixture of Yiddish vaudeville, silent-film showiness and Lou Reed minimalism. (The Lou Reed comparison is only half-true because Mr. Richman’s a whiz on flamenco guitar.) Listening to his delicate vocal delivery, you forget that he’s singing a song called “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.”

His flamboyant humor notwithstanding, Mr. Richman’s feeling for the drama of romance runs deep. “Couples Must Fight” and “Surrender” actually are good pieces of relationship advice.

He has a poet’s sense of place, evoking “Springtime in New York,” “That Summer Feeling” and what it’s like to be “Nineteen in Naples.” “Maybe a Walk Home From Natick High School” was edited down to a 30-second mood piece.

Mr. Richman has a thing for painters, too, playing “Vincent Van Gogh” and a song about Salvador Dali. “Pablo Picasso,” performed originally by his old band the Modern Lovers, recently got a vigorous workout on “Reality,” David Bowie’s latest album. Mr. Richman gave it the flamenco treatment Monday night.

A jarring paean to death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal was about as topical as the singer would get. “Here Come the Martian Martians” and “My Baby Love Love Loves Me” followed quickly.

Nothing could have spoiled the fun Monday night. Not even that ghastly air conditioner.

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