Jonathan Richman at the Detroit Bar

I saw Jonathan Richman play the Detroit Bar last night. He’s one of those guys like Stephin Merritt — a musician I greatly admire even though I’m not familiar with his entire catalog. I saw Jonathan for the first time two years ago in LA. He and his drummer Tommy kept things so minimal and Jonathan was so loose and fun onstage that I watched it thinking, that’s exactly what I want to be doing.

Last night was a similar experience. Jonathan played his Spanish guitar with no strap and no pickup — occasionally standing in front of the mic where it could be amplified, occasionally not. He danced around, played cowbell and sleigh bells. He led brief sing-alongs. He wandered from song to song, often plucking little melodies and chords that just seemed to come to his mind. He deconstructs the whole song experience. He’ll change lyrics or add short explanations of the already literal lyrics. He’ll stop playing and let Tommy play a drum solo while he dances around. He’s constantly pulling apart the song. It’s fascinating to watch but I do wish I was more familiar with the songs he’s playing so I could appreciate the work more.

Gail Davies opened the show and was a really wonderful surprise. She’s a classic country singer from Nashville that I was shamefully ignorant of. Jonathan lured her out to California for five shows down the coast. She came with a little band of an upright bass player and electric guitarist. I immediately recognized the guitarist but couldn’t come up with a name til she introduced him. It was her son, Chris Scruggs whom Todd K introduced me to back in Nashville a while ago. It was really cool to see them perform and made me a little homesick. I spoke with Chris briefly after the show and he remembered my name from the Nashville Scene which is a completely random connection to make.

The OC Weekly has a nice write-up of the show if you’d like a better review than my little recap.