Photos: Jonathan Richman's three night run at Denver's the Lion's Lair - Reverb

Jonathan Richman’s three night run at the Lion’s Lair (photos, review)

Jonathan Richman takes the stage with an astonishing lack of pretense. In fact, on Saturday night, he waited in the ticket line at the Lion’s Lair to show his ID and check in with the doorman before taking his place on stage next to drummer Tommy Larkins. With a modest air, the legendary protopunk troubadour’s three-night residency at the Lion’s Lair was a celebration of existential illumination and heartache. His devilishly sparkling eyes hint at an artist of powerful intellect, wit and vulnerability.

Richman’s Lion’s Lair setlists represented songs from a catalogue more than three decades deep, including classics like “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.” He repeated many of the songs over his three-night stint, but to amazing effect: the songs were nearly unrecognizable from the versions he had performed on previous nights. In fact, sometimes the songs seem to take a back seat to Richman’s many embellishments of them — stream of conscious wordplay and storytelling punctuated by passionate dance breaks.

The tiny, intimate Lion’s Lair was the perfect venue in which to experience Richman’s highly personal, engaging nature. Richman’s stage presence vacillates between an intense vulnerability and a playful, childlike sense of wonder and enthusiasm. The latter was especially evident in the middle of Friday night’s set, when Richman led the entire crowd of the Lion’s Lair on a fieldtrip out to the Colfax sidewalk to take in a few minutes of the impressive electrical storm. On his return to the stage, he applied the same enthusiasm to the paintings of the Old Masters in his song “No one was like Vermeer.”

Richman’s inventive acoustic guitar work was accompanied by the excellently jazz flavored drumming of Tommy Larkins, formerly of Tuscon’s indie supergroup Giant Sand. Larkins is a patient and steady sideman for Richman’s unpredictable improvisation. Richman’s songs and stories tripped through at least four different languages and countless musical, intellectual and artistic influences but never once seemed high-brow or inaccessible. He closed his three-day set with the poignant “That Summer Feeling” and with as little fanfare as his entrance, floated from the stage into the cool Colorado Colfax night.

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Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.

Michael McGrath is a Denver area photographer. His work is available at Twist and Shout Records. Visit his website.

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  • Ditka

    cant believe i missed this!! is he coming back?