Jonathan Richman is building outdoor brick ovens in his spare time these days.
Backstage at his show at the Bell House in Brooklyn last night, he gave us flyers for his new masonry venture in California. It weirdly makes sense that Richman, the 63 year-old former leader of the massively influential band The Modern Lovers, likes to work outside with his hands. Knowing his music you could see him getting into the zen of it. Richman is outspoken in his loathing for technology and his preference for honest human connection. That mood was on display last night at the Bell House where he played the second of two shows.
His touring lineup is simple: Richman plays a flamenco guitar alongside a drummer with a stripped-down kit and concerts are completely improvised. He seamlessly went from doing his classic songs to making up lyrics on the spot to doing a straight 20 minutes of songs in Italian. He flipped his guitar ZZ Top-style then danced around the stage with a cowbell making eye contact with the audience. It was like he was checking to make sure everyone was having a great time. We were.
Richman is known for his tunes about the unseen in the obvious. Things most of us would overlook, he makes profound. Songs about a gum wrapper or pining for a girlfriend or his love of lesbian bars are delivered without irony. Listening to his music feels like he’s giving you permission to wear your heart on your sleeve. My friend’s father knew Richman from the CBGB years and he called her earlier in the day and told her come backstage to say hello after the show. When he opened the door, three people walked in behind us. Two were old friends of his, the other was a kid we didn’t know.
“Thanks for letting me back here,” the kid said to Richman.
“Well any friend of hers,” he said pointing to my friend, “is a friend of mine.”
“I don’t know him,” my friend said. “Oh,” said Richman. “Whatever. Welcome.”
Richman gave us the flyers and strummed his guitar as he caught up with his buddies. It got late and we said our goodbyes. Richman wrote down his new address on my friend’s brick oven flyer. “Write to me,” he sang while he played his guitar, making up a little song. “And I will write you back.”