Tuesday September 30th, 1999 at The Bottleneck in
Jonathan Richman, The Hefners, Filthy Jim
At 5pm Ticketmaster told me there were no tickets available and my heart sank. The promoter was a little more generous, but did indicate the remainder were "going fast." I've been obsessed with Jonathan Richman, and more precisely with Roadrunner, since reading Marcus' Lipstick Traces. Missing him would be something I knew I would regret, so with reading material in tow, I headed into the Bottleneck... two and a half hours early.
Local grease rockers Filthy Jim strolled in as I was finishing chapter 7, and played an early 9:30 set for me and the several dozen folks seated towards the back of the club. If the audience seemed to lack energy, they weren't going to get a spark from the band. Like two nights before, frontman Seth Cole introduced the first song ("This one's called 'pussy'.") but it was timid. It was like watching a returning college kid cuss in front of his parents. The rest of the band performed equally as well, noticeably shaking their heads as they missed the changes, and waving off songs from the setlist between songs. They seemed to be out of their element and only played a short set.
The Hefners are back from a tour of Europe so you'll want to pollish your go-go boots, turn off your Turtles LPs, and prepare to frug, jerk, and monkey the evening away. The Hefners perform sugar-coated 60s brit-pop complete with vintage organ sound, tambourine and a clean, commanding guitar. Their music is lively, upbeat and so much fun - it's impossible not to be sucked in by the music. Their live show, however, is a different matter as frontman/vocalist/guitarist L.J. Hefner spent most of the evening watching his fingers rather than engaging the crowd.
There was a long wait between bands as the soundman assembled the stage to Jonathan Richman's unusual specifications. The monitors and house microphones were completely cleared off of the stage. A special microphone was set up for Jonathan, a chair was provided for his small guitar amplifier, and drummer Tommy Larkins' custom upright drumkit was mic'd.
I looked around anxiously waiting for Richman to take the stage. It appeared as though he hadn't picked up many new fans since the early 70s, as the audience was heavily weighted towards wimmin in their late 30s (many of whom were drinking wine from the bar's plastic cups.) Despite my earlier fear of the show selling out, less than one hundred people were standing when Richman walked on stage wearing slippers, stretch jeans, a T-shirt and carrying a beaten guitar case.
He began the show with a loose instrumental that allowed him to address the crowd in his spoken lyrical style. During this opener he explained that the interview run in The Pitch (Kansas City's newsweekly) was completely fabricated. In particular the interviewer mentioned he had called Richman at his home in New York, however Richman revealed he hasn't lived in New York since he was 17, and according to Richman, "that was a long time ago." How long? Well in 1972 when the first Modern Lovers album was recorded, Richman was already a veteran of the same NYC art and music scene that spawned The Velvet Underground.
Richman continued his set with Nineteen in Naples from his latest album, I'm So Confused, followed by a collection of songs spanning his nearly three decade long music career. Memorable songs were Give Paris One More Chance, Pablo Picasso, Vampire Girls, Parties in the USA, You Can't Talk to the Dude, I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar, and to capitalize on his inclusion on the Something About Mary soundtrack, True Love is Not Nice.
The live arrangement of acoustic guitar and only minimal drumming made even songs recorded twenty-five years ago sound new. Twangy songs from 1990's Jonathan Richman Goes Country (Since She Started to Ride and You're Crazy For Taking the Bus) took on a whole new life when performed in this intimate setting.
Richman did not take his position on stage for granted and worked hard to entertain his audience, and in return they hung on his every word and movement. Richman frequently changed lyrics and added in witty lines to elabourate upon, or modernize his songs. Several times during the night he set down his guitar entirely and danced for the delighted audience [though I must admit he danced like Carmine from Lavern and Shirley].
At the end of the night Richman was coaxed back out for a tender and personalized encore of You Must Ask the Heart. Although Richman finished without playing the song I had come to hear, there was no room for complaint in what was one of the most intimate, engaging and entertaining shows the Bottleneck has seen all year.