Jonathan Richman @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon
Bringing the disparate styles of Jonathan Richman and Vic Chesnutt might not seem like an obvious bill, with Mr. Chesnutt on the rootsy folkier side of things, and Mr. Richman more known for his playful, troubadourian pop stylings but apparently they'd toured previously together and have also more recently recorded an album together along with drummer Tommy Larkin set for release later this year.
I'd wished I'd arrived more promptly for Vic Chesnutt's set and while I didn't miss the longer suffering of the heat that engulfed the venue I regret missing a good bit of Mr. Chesnutt's desolate, languid rootsy folk set. With Jonathan's drummer Tommy Larkin helping out on drums and Vic on guitar, Vic's vunerable warble took centre stage with the instrumentation being quite spare and ultimately secondary. It was unfortunate that the most impolite chatter I think I've ever heard at a show continued throughout Mr. Chesnutt's set although I was glad to hear I wasn't the only one trying to pay attention to the show - some more vocal patrons took some initiative to yell out for other people to shut up. While Mr. Chesnutt seemed to take the chatter in stride, in response to some audience member's requests for others in the crowd to tone down the chatter, Vic said something along the lines of maybe "throwing a punch". Good to see he has a sense of humour. Vic got quite the enthusiastic response at the end of his set such that had he been headlining we'd have definitely earned an encore.
Had it really almost been 5 years since Jonathan Richman last played Toronto? That was approximately the length of time since the first and only time I'd seen Jojo play live at Lula Lounge in 2004. As with that show (and as I'd imagine most of his shows are), he kept things spontaneous and loose. Although perhaps he had an idea of what him and drummer Tommy Larkin would be performing, he didn't seem to play with an actual set list or (at least no written one that I'd actually'd seen). Technically difficulties plagued the start of the set with Jonathan communicating to the sound guy that the connections should have stayed as they'd been during sound check and after several minutes of trying to get the speaker connections right he said to the crowd that the show must go on and he and Tommy performed two songs unamplified to the delight of the crowd. At those songs conclusion, Jonathan said he and the sound guy would take another stab at fixing the speaker and mic connections, expressing to us to be patient which most people were more than happy to be, and finally with a burst of acoustic guitar intercepted by the mic and filtered through the speaker, the crowd roared as the amplified part of the set began.
Jonathan exuded a charisma that's so rare these days. He was eccentric, goofy and whimsical which was reflected naturally in songs like 'I Was Dancing In A Lesbian Bar' (prompting some enthusiastic singalong) and 'Egyptian Reggae' and in spontaneous outbursts of dancing and or speaking in foreign languages like Italian and French. He showed a romantic side in a tune that he sung in English then in Italian reciting the song's title(which I can recall at the moment) in Italian because he said it sounded so much better in Italian. He also expressed a poignant side with a song about a(his?) dying mother in a nursing home. Mr. Larkin on drums kept a steady beat to Jonathan's casual but energetic acoustic guitar strummings and Jonathan's vocals guided the melodies nicely. Mr. Richman complimented the acoustics of the venue but we needed no reminder of how lovely everything sounded. It was lovely enough that for the duration of the set I'd almost forgotten how hot it was in there.
Photos: Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkin, Vic Chesnutt @ The Great Hall (June 25, 2009)
Eye Weekly also has a review of the show. monkey x has a more pointed rant concerning the chatty crowd during Vic Chesnutt's set.