Review: Jonathan Richman, Deathray At Old Ironsides, Sacramento, CA
Ever since he surfaced as the frontman for proto-punks The Modern Lovers in the mid-70s, Jonathan Richman has forged a career by making entertainment of life's minutiae. Ever get the silent treatment from a significant other? Ever wonder how the Velvet Underground got that sound? Richman wrote a simple, funny and poignant song about it. He's also penned similar tomes about UFOs, the ice cream man, and airplanes (from a first person perspective, no less).
Despite the recent career boost that came from his role as the narrating busker in "There's Something About Mary," Richman retains his Spartan touring philosophy: gather up stone-faced drummer Tommy Larkin and his tiny kit, grab an acoustic guitar, and pack it all into a rented car.
With Larkin's beat pausing only once during the hour-long set on Saturday (12/4), Richman drew from as far back as The Modern Lovers ("Pablo Picasso") to entertain the crowd that packed this 175-capacity club. A bona-fide ham, Richman seemed to make eye contact with everyone in the audience as he mugged, sang, strummed and danced his way through a charming, spirited performance.
The genius of Beck is partly his ability to absorb the cacophony that comes with living in Los Angeles and to spit it out in the form of music reflective of that chaos. On the other side of the spectrum is the genius of Jonathan Richman. In the context of today's crazy world, Richman's simple schtick seems downright radical. Not to mention refreshing.
The night's opening act was Sacramento-based Deathray, which has an as-yet-unreleased album in the can for Capricorn Records. Though the band features founding Cake guitarist Greg Brown (who penned that band's breakthrough hit "The Distance") and bassist Victor Damiani, Deathray's updated new wave sound has little in common with that of their former mates.
Which isn't to say that Deathray can't be a likely candidate for alt-rock notoriety. Singer Dana Gumbiner has the swagger of a Brit-pop star, and the band's songs, while polished to radio-readiness, have a fresh feel. Among the set's highlights was a cover of John Lennon's underrated anthem ''Gimme Some Truth,'' which managed to come off as both angry and fun.