HE, JONATHANLet it be known that you who picked up the paper the day it officially came out shall be justly rewarded, for tonight, Thursday, June 2, Jonathan Richman is back in town, and anyone who attends the show will leave with a smile on his or her face. Guaranteed.
If you're not sure who Richman is, I'm not sure why you're reading this column. Still, I'll do my best to bring you up to date in a pithy manner.
Richman fronted the Modern Lovers, a Boston band that first convened in 1970, and later came into its own with a line-up that included Jerry Harrison (who would later be a Talking Head) on keyboards, drummer David Robinson (a future Car), and bassist Ernie Brooks (who went on to hit .378 in his three seasons as a member of the Boston Red Sox--not really, silly; he actually later performed with David Johansen of the New York Dolls). After recording some demos in 1971 with the nasty Kim Fowley, the Lovers went back into the studio to cut what would later become their self-titled debut album, in 1973. At the helm for those sessions was John Cale, whose Velvet Underground had largely inspired Richman to write these songs--which included future classics such as "Roadrunner," "Pablo Picasso," "Dignified and Old" and "I'm Straight"--in the first place. By the end of 1973, the band was history; the album was finally released in 1976, and bridged the gap between the proto-punk of the Velvets and the actual punk of the Ramones. Today, it is widely regarded as one of the best and most influential rock albums of the '70s.
Richman relocated to Northern California (where he still lives) and began writing songs in an entirely different vein, first with a new version of the Modern Lovers, and later, as a solo artist. While these songs have often been described as "children's songs for adults" due to their relative simplicity, for every "Party in the Woods Tonight" (about a shindig thrown by creepy forest creatures) or "I'm Nature's Mosquito" (which seeks to justify the existence of the little bloodsuckers), there was a lost-love song like "Back in Your Life" or a haunting song about the childhood wonders of summertime ("That Summer Feeling").
The older he gets, the more mature his work has become; his latest release, 1994's Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love (Sanctuary/Vapor) includes two more songs about artists ("Vincent Van Gogh" and "Salvador Dali"), as well as a plea to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Thankfully, his live shows remain as entertaining as ever. With only drummer Tommy Larkins (Tucson's own!) backing him, Richman veers from a newly written Spanish-sung song to an oldie like "Pablo Picasso" to a song about the joys of dancing in lesbian bars, occasionally stopping mid-song to toss in a tangential verbal aside, or to seemingly uncontrollably begin dancing. Thirty-five years after he began, the music still gets him.
And it'll get you, too, when Jonathan Richman takes the stage at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $12 at the door. For more information, call 622-8848.
ONE TWO MORE FOR THE ROADIn case you haven't heard, local cock-rawkers Whiskey Bitch are splintering off. Guitarist Wendy Gadzuk is relocating to Los Angeles to become part of chick-rockers Cockpit (and has recently begun work on a Stones-inspired, bluesy rock album with producer Jeff Dahl); bassist Justin the Crotch is moving to Seattle to "pursue other musical endeavors," according to Gadzuk; and the other three members--vocalist Tony Pickup, guitarist Terrible Paulsy and drummer Downtown Dave--will likely put together a new band.
Gadzuk also reports that the Bourbon Bitches are planning on getting back together around the year-end holidays for a local show or two. In the meantime, you can catch the band's final two shows (until then). They'll be at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., this Saturday, June 4, to play a show that also includes openers The Deludes and Solid Donkey, who kick things off at 9:45 p.m.; then, again at Che's Lounge, 350 N. Fourth Ave., the following week, on Saturday, June 11, for a free, final farewell fiesta. That one should get underway around 9 p.m. Call 798-1298 for further details on the Plush gig, and 623-2088 for more info on the Che's show.
VETERANS' DAYNext Thursday, June 9, seems to be veterans' day here in T-Town, as three divergent shows featuring acts with some history under their respective belts all hit our burg.
Headlining a show at Anselmo Valencia Tori Amphitheater at Casino del Sol is George Thorogood and the Destroyers, who have spent the last 30 years taking old blues songs and turning them into bluesy rock songs, adding a few new additions to the canon along the way, including "Bad to the Bone," "I Drink Alone," and "You Talk Too Much." The group's latest release is last year's Greatest Hits: 30 Years of Rock (Capitol).
Soundbites is a bit more excited about the show's opener, Dickey Betts and Great Southern. Betts, who joined Southern rock pioneers the Allman Brothers Band in the late '60s, and is responsible for some of that band's finest songs, including "Ramblin' Man," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," "Blue Sky," "Jessica" and "Southbound." A couple years ago, Betts was given his walking papers from the reunited Allmans, reportedly due to substance abuse problems--a claim which Betts vehemently denied. At any rate, it takes one hell of a guitar player to fill the shoes of Duane Allman, and Betts is exactly that.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers with Dickey Betts and Great Southern perform at 7:30 p.m. at AVA, 5655 W. Valencia Road. Advance tickets range from $15 to $35, and are available at tickemaster.com. Need more info? Call 838-6700.
Though she's become synonymous with the singer-songwriter explosion of the 1970s, Janis Ian's career actually began in 1967, when, at only 15 years of age, she released her eponymous debut album on Verve. Though her subsequent career would include many interruptions--an early marriage that led to temporary "retirement" and being dropped from her label--even on her first album, she established herself as a songwriter unafraid to address controversial subject matter with a warm and sincere pathos. That debut featured her first hit, "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)," about a teenage interracial relationship.
It was 1975's Between the Lines (Columbia) that transformed her from aspiring folkie to reluctant superstar. The album, which was largely more fleshed out than her earlier work (strings were all over it), included her biggest hit, "At Seventeen," which was a Top 5 single, earned her a Grammy and pushed Lines into platinum territory. She continued releasing albums with diminishing returns until she found herself without a recording contract in 1981. After 12 silent years, a more mature Ian emerged in 1993 with Breaking Silence (Morgan Creek), which stuck to her tried-and-true difficult subject matter (the title is a reference to her coming out of the closet). She's released a few albums since, the most recent being 2003's Billie's Bones (Oh Boy), which was received warmly by critics.
Janis Ian performs at 7:30 p.m. at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave., next Thursday, June 9. Advance tix are available for $18 and $20 at the ATC Box Office and Antigone Books, by calling 622-2823, or online at arizonatheatre.org. More info is yours by calling 304-6147.
Also returning to town next week, in support of their 2004 album La Semana (Spiral Subwave), are Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra. The group first gained widespread attention in the late '80s as the face of nouveau flamenco--essentially an update of flamenco music that incorporates elements of other types of (American originated) music, including jazz and funk. Frankly, Soundbites has always viewed Liebert and Co. as being responsible for stripping flamenco of all elements that made it interesting in the first place, in attempt to make middle-aged music listeners feel "culturized" by listening to new-agey music by someone with a slightly exotic name. But, hey, that's just us.
Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra perform at 7 p.m. next Thursday, June 9, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance reserved tickets are available for $25 (floor) and $20 (balcony) at the Rialto Box Office and rialtotheatre.com. For further details, head to the Web site or call 740-1000.
ON THE BANDWAGONAnd speaking of the Rialto, the recently reopened theatre will be featuring an all-ages showcase of local bands each month, billed as a Local Band Blowout, with the inaugural installment set for Saturday, June 4. In descending order of appearance, the show includes sets from The Jons, The Solace Bros. , The Sweat Band and Lagoon. Four ducats gets you through the doors, and the show begins at 9 p.m. (At 7 p.m. the same night, the Rialto will hold a reception for artist Hilary Meehan, who painted the mural in the theatre's lobby. The event will feature drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and live music, and those who attend the reception will be granted free admission to the local band showcase.) The theatre is located at 318 E. Congress St. Questions will be answered by calling 740-1000.
The very same night, the Surly Wench Pub, 424 N. Fourth Ave., will be celebrating its first anniversary of serving up libations and loud rock. The hoedown includes live performances from Staircase Wit, Shark Pants and Tulsa Trainwreck Riders, who kick things off at 9 p.m. For answers to those burning, itchy questions, call 882-0009.