Jonathan Richman: The Best Show I Have Ever Seen Live

Emily Cosgrove | April 2017

Over the past few weeks, I had the amazing opportunity to see THE Jonathan Richman live and in the flesh, not once, but TWICE. For those of you out there who do not know who the iconic Jonathan Richman is, shame on you. Just kidding, but you really need to check out this guy. He is truly a living legend.

For a little bit of background, Jonathan Richman was formerly the front man of a rock band called The Modern Lovers. The band was formed in 1970, but their recordings weren’t released until over six years later, and they actually only have one full album. They didn’t have much popularity while they were actually a band, but their sound was way before its time and paved the way for much of the new wave and punk rock movement. Some of the former members even went on to join bands like The Cars and Talking Heads. Crazy, right?

Later on, Jonathan went on to perform in different incarnations of The Modern Lovers, but the music heavily strayed to a more storytelling, folk-driven, and oftentimes comedic style. He eventually went on to a solo career, which he still pursues to this day at age 65.

 I got into The Modern Lovers about two years ago, but never really was aware of Richman’s solo career until maybe six months ago. Once I heard his stuff, I was hooked. His song “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” became my PARTY ANTHEM (seriously, listen to it). I constantly found myself checking different concert websites, desperately awaiting the day that I finally saw a Chicago tour date featuring Jonathan Richman. Then one day, MY LIFE CHANGED.

I was sitting in a bathroom of a music venue at U of I (don’t ask), when I saw the most beautiful words appear before my eyes on a poster for a venue called The Accord. It read: APRIL 1st, JONATHAN RICHMAN W/ TOMMY LARKINS ON THE DRUMS. I just about died. Even though the show was going to be two and a half hours away at a college I was not a huge fan of, I KNEW I HAD TO GO. I immediately went home and bought my tickets to see Jonathan at The Accord. Soon after that, I got a notification that Jonathan Richman would be performing at Lincoln Hall about two weeks after the U of I show. TICKETS BOUGHT.

So, let’s get to the reason I’m writing this article: the shows themselves. The first show at The Accord was life changing, to say the least. I am going to be honest, lately I find myself not enjoying going to shows as much as I used to. Maybe it is because I have seen too many bands that are awful live. Maybe it is because I hate crowds lately. Either way, I was excited for this show, but my expectations were set low at first.

Jonathan performed the show on guitar with his drummer Tommy Larkins (whom he has been with for 24 years!). I was not enthused, I thought it would be pretty lame since there wasn’t a backing band. BUT I WAS SO WRONG. Jonathan went through a ton of songs, most of which I did not know, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I was standing front row, and let me tell you, the man makes such intense eye contact with each and every single person in the audience. He sings into your soul. Seriously, that is the only way I can describe it.

He sang songs in Italian, Spanish, French, and of course, English. He ad-libs, does funny dances, prances around the stage with bells and maracas. You can tell the man doesn’t take himself too seriously, but what he does take seriously is his passion for performing. He isn’t the best singer, but that is all part of his charm. He has such raw emotion and power to his voice. You can just feel it. I have never experienced anything like that at a concert performance. Throughout the entire show, I had a gigantic smile on my face. A big, stupid smile I couldn’t get rid of; so big that my cheeks hurt at the end of the show.

The show at Lincoln Hall was similar, but even better, if that is possible. He added a few new songs to the set list and switched it up a bit, which I was excited about because he actually sang some Modern Lovers songs. He seemed even more comedic, more passionate, and more enthusiastic this time, which I didn’t even think was possible.

There is not enough that can be said about Jonathan Richman. I cannot believe that I am so fortunate to have seen a living legend like him twice in such a short period of time. I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again: the only way to know if an artist is a great performer is if you can attend one of their shows not knowing a single song, yet still enjoy it. Even though I knew a few songs Jonathan played, most of them I did not know. Some were even in a different language! Yet, I was still captivated the whole time. This was still one of the best performances I have ever seen.

Bottom line: if you ever get a chance to see this man live, DO IT. Drive miles and miles if you have to. He is mesmerizing, he is enthralling, and he is everything that is good in this world. It is 100% worth it.