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Jonathan Richman Threw a Party at the Great Hall

[Now Toronto]

The former Modern Lover’s show included a juggler, lots of charisma, and life lessons in song

By Sarah Greene

A Jonathan Richman show should feel like a municipal holiday, an excuse for kids of all ages to party. Last night at his sold-out show at the Great Hall, it was – evidenced in part by a playful opening set by a juggler.

Richman and longtime drummer Tommy Larkins blew in like that leftover summer Toronto just experienced, slipping and sliding through reworked nooks and crannies of Richman’s catalogue, rendering old songs more universal and of the moment in the process. Let Her Go Into The Darkness, for instance, became, Let Us Go Into The Darkness – it’s that time of year again.

Richman’s songs are often quirkily framed life lessons, which he pulls off by keeping them personal and funny (thanks to an unusually large amount of charisma): he sang poetically about Vermeer finding cracks in the world, his enduring childlike tendency toward distraction; how sex without the heart as a chaperone leads to “boy thoughts,” about his love of Keith Richards.

Mid-set, the classical-guitar-wielding former proto-punk and founder of the Modern Lovers said, “We don’t do concerts, we do parties,” emphasizing that point with a series of multilingual party songs that included crowd-pleaser I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar, though the set was hardly a hit parade.

During the encore, Richman stepped away from the mic to talk face-to-face to those in the crowd nearest him. When people in the back started yelling requests, Richman (who eschews the internet and smartphones) said, “It’s not their fault [for being rude]: they’re getting blasted with a million impulses a second of electronic gunk,” which segued directly into his closing song, Take Me To The Plaza, a paean to the real-life contact of visiting a plaza.