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Concert review: Richman gives fans a charmingly meandering show

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Duluth News Tribune
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It’s not often that a concert begins with the lead singer walking on stage and then making a beeline directly into the crowd to explain that he’s pretty quiet, and that they should all come closer. But that’s what Jonathan Richman did on Saturday night at Sacred Heart Music Center. Maybe 50 people were seated here and there, and Richman had them up and arranged at his feet before he’d even played a note.

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But he’s an old hand at this sort of thing. The 63-year-old Richman has been in the game for a while, first as a part of the influential Modern Lovers, and later as a solo artist. He’s inspired Iggy Pop, Black Francis and the Sex Pistols. So this is someone who knows how to do his job.

It’s odd, then, that his music is still as loosey-goosey as ever. At Sacred Heart, Richman bobbed and weaved and zigged and zagged, appearing to explore tangents as they occurred to him. Opener “Even Though I Know I Am The Wind And The Sun, I” was transformed from a 90-second solo ditty (as it appeared on the album “O Moon, Queen Of Night On Earth”) into a long, adorably rambling meander during which Richman several times would sing into the mic while playing his nylon-string guitar and then walk away from it, still singing and playing, down the steps, into the crowd. He’d sing a bit, play a little solo, wander back onstage, sing a bit more, and so on.

Accompanied by longtime drummer Tommy Larkins (who Richman hilariously introed within the first 30 seconds of the music starting up), Richman was the definition of quirky. He spoke about the sound of the room, he spoke and sang in Spanish, and he broke into what sounded like an impromptu cover of “La Bamba” complete with maracas and goofy dancing. The crowd swayed and smiled with him. Seemingly improvised lyrics in the Modern Lovers’ “Old World” about child abuse seemed to be directed at the old Catholic order that once built the church he was playing in.

His guitarwork was surprisingly deft — his flamenco-style playing was smooth and lyrical and romantic-sounding, especially in the setting. It was perhaps more intriguing at times than his voice, which was as charmingly off-kilter as ever.

While the turnout was definitely not what it should have been, given Richman’s resume, those who were there got to see a true original in a setting as intimate as a fan could hope.

Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at tonybennettreviews@ gmail.com.

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