Club Helsinki Hudson
June 9, 2012
Review by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Jonathan Richman showed why, about 40 years on from when he began his career as a performer, he continues to enjoy a devoted, cult-like following, especially for his performances, after one of his most memorable at Club Helsinki Hudson on Saturday night. In just a little over an hour and with only his voice, a nylon-string acoustic guitar, and the accompaniment of Tommy Larkins on a stripped-down drum kit, Richman entertained an enthusiastic crowd through sheer force of personality, real musical chops, and considerable funk.
The latter is not to be underestimated. I’ve seen plenty of quartets, quintets and larger ensembles, ostensibly playing blues, R&B and soul music, that have had a harder time keeping the funk alive. Somehow with or in spite of his faux-naive persona and his lack of overt appeals to the funk, Richman had a good portion of the crowd on its feet in front of the stage for nearly the entire show, boogieing to his innocent entreaties to enjoy the party, dance, and have a good time. While he’s no James Brown – who he name-checked at one point, ironically pointing out that very fact – the sum effect was nearly the same. For all his laid-back, hipster deconstruction of the art of entertainment, Richman could well be the hardest working man in show business.
And it paid off throughout the virtually non-stop show, in songs sung in a half-dozen different languages, including Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic. Translations were provided, but they all seemed to say the same thing – there’s a party, and you’re invited. Or as Richman himself put it, “this is inclusive, not exclusive.”
Richman is a disarmingly deft guitarist who uses minimal effects, and when he does rely on electronics, such as a reverb pedal, he does it knowingly, pointing out to the audience that he’s making use of it, and launching into a verbal riff on how guitarists cheat themselves and their audiences with the overuse of pedal effects. This from a guy who began his entire show wandering the length and breadth of the club singing and playing his guitar off mic, bringing the party to the people, so they would bring the party back to him, back to the stage, which they did, and where it remained for the next 60 minutes.
Richman occasionally put down his guitar and picked up some hand percussion – bells or a cow bell – or ceded focus to his subtle but essential collaborator, drummer Tommy Larkins, playing a patchwork kit of two congas, a small kick drum and a high-hat. Richman is as fine a percussionist as he is a dancer – he kicked a few good steps – and there was a fine line in his playing and dancing between authentic virtuosity and parody. But it was all good natured, as was his entire show, and if the entire thing teetered on an Andy Kaufman-like performance art goof, it really didn’t matter, because it was just as fun as “the real thing,” only better.
The performer requested that photographs not be taken at his concert.