Monday, July 26, 2010

LIVE from SF: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Jonathan Richman

Catching a performer at their most creative, representative moment is a tricky business. There are many factors which can influence a performance, everything from a band's experience playing music together, the energy and visible appreciation of an audience, how an artist chooses to take care of himself (or not) while touring. Last week, at the venerable Bimbo's in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, Ariel Pink was in what I suspect to have been a very representative moment for his unique brand of experimental folk, pop and 70's influenced rock. Fresh off a major label contract with 4AD, and heaps of critical praise, one could sense that Ariel clearly thinks he's hot shit. At least that's how he acted, complaining throughout the set about not having a decent sound check, not having enough reverb, and whatever else he was babbling about. Between complaints, he snacked on a sandwich, guzzled some beer, and decided that he would knock the mic down, all of which made it a miserable show for the sound guy, the crowd and his backing band. A portion of the crowd was really into it, dancing to the admirable jams laid down by Ariel's Haunted Graffiti (his backing band), despite his best efforts to shout, scream, and distract from any sort of musicality or genuinely interesting musical expression going on around him.

Last Wednesday at the Swedish American Music Hall, I saw a whole other type of weird: cheerful, playful, offbeat and intelligent. A performance from someone who has been writing and performing music for over thirty years. Who else but Jonathan Richman can write catchy songs meandering from Vermeer ("so much perspective, you know, for the times"),to urban living ("my little two year old mind was thinking I love this place, the dirt, the greasy pizza smells...") to Keith Richards ("love those internal melodies and minor 6ths"). In his trademark partially sung, part conversational, spoken style, Jonathan confidently entertained a small-ish crowd (who in true SF fashion were mainly seated on the floor until he urged them to stand up and clap because, "you know, you'll feel better"). All Richman needs is his classical guitar, a mic, and drummer Tommy Larkins to put on a show. Between the engaging lyrics, which come out clear as a bell, proficient if not flashy or perfect guitar playing, and some killer dance moves, Jonathan Richman is someone you need to see next time he plays in your area.

In this battle of the weird, I'll take Jonathan over Ariel any day, even if it means sacrificing some cool points with the cool kids amongst my readership.