Show Review: Jonathan Richman with Olof Arnalds at Swedish American Hall, 7/21/10

by Gordon Elgart on July 22, 2010

He puts his heart into it for you

Jonathan Richman explained the reason for the existence of his ongoing residency at Swedish American Hall this week. He was in Reykjavik playing a show, and the opener was some girl playing guitar and singing, and he was thinking “whatever” but then he started really listening and fell in love with the music, as did his drummer and constant on-stage partner, Tommy Larkins. So when they found out Olof Arnalds was looking to play some shows in San Francisco, they set up these gigs.  Thanks to everyone involved for getting them together because it’s always a total treat to see Mr. Richman in action.

Olof Arnalds opened the show, walking into a Swedish American Hall floor devoid of its usual chairs, and everyone was seated around the edges, or standing in back. A lone man, Jonathan Richman himself, walked up to the front of the stage, in the audience smiling at her like a proud father. The audience took the cue to go up to the front as well, and then immediately sat down on the floor like a kindergarten singalong.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor was never this good.

Singing along would prove difficult for all of us, as not only are the entirety of Ms. Arnald’s lyrics in Icelandic, they’re also sung so impossibly well that it would take a fair amount of vocal gymnastics to keep up. Her English isn’t great, but she was still able to tell us what the songs were about, express dissatisfaction on the affect of humidity on the tuning of her instruments, and even complain about how cold San Francisco is. “And she’s from Iceland!” yelled someone in the audience when she said this. She tossed in a cover of an Arthur Russell song as well as playing a half-finished tune without lyrics (simply “la la la”), and left only when a cell-phone timer went off, signifying her time was up.  She left to a huge ovation.

Jonathan Richman took to the stage a few minutes later, got his guitar out of the case as his custom, and began his hour-long set. Now, if you’ve never seen Jonathan Richman before, stop reading this and buy tickets to see him tonight or tomorrow! Seriously! Do it!

If you have seen him before, you know about what to expect, and all of that was on display here. He sang on the microphone, sang in front of the microphone, danced on stage, danced in the audience, looked soulfully out at the audience while singing heartfelt songs of love, sang at least one song about a famous painter, (Vermeer last night, maybe Van Gogh tomorrow?) and generally made everyone happy.

He throws in short songs about still learning about sex at age 59, and both men and women scream. He sings in French, Spanish, you name it. More screaming. His shows end quickly because he doesn’t “want to wear out his welcome,” but I truly don’t think that’s possible.

When you live in a big city like San Francisco, your friends and family will constantly remark on how wonderful it must be to live in such a great city. And when they talk about this, they’re talking about Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown. When we talk about living in a great city, we talk about other things. And one of things we San Franciscans should be talking about is the fact that Jonathan Richman is a San Francisco treasure.

I’ll quote from Michael Ackerman quoting Andrew Sandoval talking about Elvis Costello in The Big Takeover issue I just bought today: “This is a classic artist, and they don’t come around that often, and you should take every opportunity to see them while you can.”

I’ll quote from myself, and say that I wouldn’t want to be the person who leaves a Jonathan Richman show saying “meh.” If your soul loves music, you’ll take the opportunity to see him sing and dance.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Pouria Yazdi July 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Good review, wish I was there.


Ackrmanesq January 4, 2011 at 2:58 am

Is it too much stroking to say a great review if I myself am name checked in the review?
While I’m not such a fan of Olof, I love love love Jonathan Richman and indeed he is a classic artist who always does something different and wonderful. I agree with Gordon you should take every opportunity to see him that you can.
I’ve seen Richman at least 24 times. While each show is its own musical joy (for those who haven’t seen him he makes entertaining an audience look easy, so much so you might think about trying it until reality sets in), my favorite Richman experience was not seeing him play. I saw NRBQ at the Bottom Line in NY in 1983 and during the late show Richman walked in and stood at the bar. My friend and I, huge Richman fans, were staring and discussing (is that Jonathan Richman?). Richman saw us and waved hello–after a moment’s discussion my friend and I invited him over to our table which had an empty chair and he sat with us throughout like an old friend, which in a sense he was.
Gordon, you caught the essence of him. Nice to sort of meet you here


Gordon Elgart January 5, 2011 at 5:23 am

Thanks for your comments! I’m glad to have someone that’s name checked show up and compliment my work. Anything else would be a disappointment. The Big Takeover has been an inspiration to me, so I’m glad that this name checking found its way back to you.

As for Mr. Richman, I’ve seen him many times, and I plan to go on seeing him as long as he chooses to perform.


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