JoCo & P&S @ Johnny D’s in Somerville
Friday, October 5, 2007
Here’s an overlong writeup of the 20071005 Jonathan Coulton with Paul and Storm concert at Johnny D’s in Somerville, Massachusetts.
I went to bed too late Thursday night and woke up too early Friday morning, so I was feeling substantially tetchy when I got to Johnny D’s at 9:30 or so (didn’t help that the T outbound on the Red Line wasn’t running, and the cabbie I ended up hiring couldn’t read street signs). Johnny D’s isn’t terrifically stocked with sittable places, but there’s lots of standing room, most of which was occupied (unfortunately for the waitstaff, who had to navigate through the crowd).
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, while I am definitely nerdy, I feel out of my element in a congregation of nerds — discussions of science fiction and Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons and Renaissance Faires give me such a headache. That said, the crowd really got into the show — or at least the ones who were there for the show did. The BoSox game was on, and some non-trivial fraction of the patrons were there for the game, or I should say for alcohol while the game occurred.
Lots of audience participation, although the item-throwing was entirely one-sided — no monkeys or panties were thrown, but Paul and Storm (mostly Storm) threw snack cakes out into the crowd, which served partly to reward particularly apt comments from audience members and mostly to encourage some people who should’ve probably been discouraged from talking. (Remember: tetchy.) Which isn’t to say there weren’t funny comments — I’ll mention a few of them in the writeup as I reach them, chronologically. I remember a lot of other comments, but I have the self-restraint to keep from subjecting y’all to them, which is more than can be said for the original commenters.
There were some minor celebrities in attendance — the family of the late Dr. Robert C. Baker, subject of Paul and Storm’s song “Nugget Man,” appeared and assured P&S that Dr. Baker had a sense of humor. Also, a bunch of developers from Harmonix, responsible for the “Guitar Hero” franchise, who denied the rumors that JoCo would make an appearance in the next game. Also, David, who drove to Northampton and back to retrieve the case of CDs Paul had left there.
Back to chronological order. Paul and Storm’s set started around 10 pm. The set list wasn’t much different from the one from the other JC w/P&S show I’ve attended, the Birchmere on August 31. I like them a lot, they’re great musicians, they’re good at writing funny songs, they do well with stage banter and things like that, I’ve been a fan since they were half of Da Vinci’s Notebook, but I can’t get all that invested in them. At the Birchmere, their songs had the benefit of novelty to me; this time, they were still kinda funny. I get really beaten down by pirate humor in general, and tonight was no exception. Fortunately, hardly anyone tried to keep the “arr”s going after Paul and Storm’s sea shanty — I was listening to recordings of that California show with people saying “guit-arrr” and “st-arrr-t” and I was wincing and wincing and cringing and wincing.
Anyway, Paul and Storm performed their new song, “Nun Fight,” written just earlier this week, and did it really well (go listen to their studio recording at the link above). Also, it’s Storm’s birthday this weekend, so the occasion was marked with stuff Paul found at a CVS 90 minutes before the show.
Really what I want to talk about is Coulton’s set, so let’s fast-forward to after the break. Actually, what I really want to talk about is right as the break started, I leaned against a divider and was immediately shooed away by a guy seated behind the divider, motioning that I was blocking his view of the empty stage. Thanks, guy. Sorry to bother you. I realize I erred in thinking that you were interested in watching the groups perform, when in fact you were fixated on beholding the backdrop at the back of the stage and you couldn’t bear it when I stood between you and it for five seconds during that oh-so-brief period when no one was occupying the stage. God, what a wrench it must have been to find that when you paid the $15 cover charge, for the three hours you were there, you’d get a bunch of musicians obstructing your cherished backdrop from your sight for all but twenty minutes.
As usual, Coulton popped on stage for three-part harmonies in “Nugget Man” during Paul and Storm’s set. After the break, though, Paul and Storm took the stage before Coulton’s introduction; I don’t remember exactly how it went, but they said something like “the man who will soft-rock your socks off, Jonathan Coulton!” and up he went.
After an intro like that, they pretty much had to start with “Soft Rocked by Me“, after which P&S left the stage for a few songs. Next was “Ikea“, then “Shop Vac“. I love “Shop Vac,” and I wish JoCo would come up with a solo for it that could be performed live, or even learn one of the solos submitted for the contest, but I’m happy just to hear it. A few of us tried to start the handclaps in the chorus, which always petered out at the end of the chorus in what P&S earlier (in the banter preceding “A Better Version of You“) called a “white-person handclap massacre”. One brave soul went to the upper registers for the backing vocals in the chorus (“for heaven’s sake it’s really loud with the shop vac on”) — depends whether you grade effort and originality or musical ability, I guess.
It was definitely a Coulton crowd, and his next song, “Skullcrusher Mountain“, was the first of several that basically the entire audience knew. At the final chorus, JoCo stepped away from the mike and had the audience sing it ourselves. (I’m going to assert that that’s grammatically correct and leave it at that.) Next came “I Crush Everything,” which JoCo’s gotten better at introducing (this time it was something like, “This is a sad song about a giant squid that’s in love with ships,” except punchier).
Paul and Storm hopped back on stage for “Baby Got Back“, and then JoCo mentioned the trip they’d taken to the offices of Harmonix, at which aforesaid Harmonix developers broke into a cheer, and he talked about his own software-writing job and how this next song is about what it feels like to be a coder. He set off into the opening chords of “Code Monkey,” stopped, and said that every time he did that, he always wanted to do something else. He started a couple of bars of chords, and before I’d gotten a chance to recognize it, all three (JoCo, P, and S) sang, right on cue, “Good! Day! Sun! Shine!” and launched into a flawless rendition of the Beatles’ hit. They went about to the third chorus or so before Coulton stopped, saying that it was too high for him and he “should know better than to cover a Paul McCartney song” (at which I should mention that one of my favorite Things a Week is his cover of a Paul McCartney song, although he does take it in a lower key than the Beatles do). Some more banter: JoCo clarified that that was not, in fact, “Code Monkey,” and Storm chimed in to add that it was, however, exactly what it feels like to be a coder. Then they did “Code Monkey“, which was great.
Jonathan asked for a little more help for the next one, asking if there was a ukulelist in the audience, preferably a tall one wearing a shirt that color-coordinated (Jonathan was in a bright yellow T-shirt with an anatomical diagram of a heart on it, which had drawn some comments from the audience during his appearance in the Paul and Storm set, none of which deserve to be repeated). Up came Ian Schwartz to do a song that JoCo said he hadn’t figured out how to do on acoustic guitar. (Audience member: “Bacteria!” Coulton: “No, not ‘Bacteria’, but I would like to figure out a way to do that one.” ZenDrum, ‘tsall I’m saying. You’re welcome.) It was, in fact, “Big Bad World One,” a song I love — it was interesting texturally, with a lead singer, two backing vocalists, and a ukulele accompanying. Ian left the stage and JoCo and P&S launched into “Creepy Doll“, a song for which the ukulele’s sound would seem a more natural fit. I like the TaW “Creepy Doll” recording, but I actually like the live version (with Paul and Storm with occasional hand percussion – dig the tambourine) a lot more. Paul and Storm’s last song (of the pre-encores — oops, spoiler) was “I Feel Fantastic, ” and you can tell it’s a Coulton crowd when he intro’d “Popular Science” magazine and everyone cheered and one guy held up a copy of the “Our Bodies, Ourselves…” CD in a jewel case with the cover on the front (JoCo: “He’s got a copy of the cover…of the CD… that never existed.”).
Then Coulton strapped on the Zen Drum for “Mister Fancy Pants,” and a woman (who’d snagged one of the few seats in front of the stage) called out, “Don’t wear that in Logan Airport!” (where, just a few weeks ago, an MIT student was arrested for wearing a shirt with a circuit board). You can tell he’s been practicing — he’s got loops of various lines, and he ended his ZenDrum solo by piecing them together to get, “Chances are you’re / best in / everybody’s / pants!” It was great, but seriously: “Bacteria.” Make it happen.
Then “When You Go,” done solo with guitar (and not a capella), then “The Future Soon” (I like it better as the first song of the set, but it really doesn’t matter that much to me), then “Better,” which I would’ve liked more if he’d figured out a way to keep that little “mi-re-do-ti-do-la-ti-do” hook. It was around 12:30 am at that point, and JoCo said he’d do just a couple more songs, the audience complained, and he said, “Oh, come on, we all just want to go to bed.” The crowd riffed on that line for way too long, taking it suggestively — at which point, for as many times as those people have probably seen Rocky Horror, it’s surprising they can’t come up with new or even good material. JoCo finally shut them up with, “All right, we should probably stop talking about the audience having sex with me.” He moved on to a song about math: “Mandelbrot Set,” and when he hit the “teaching math at Yale” line, he ad-libbed, “Sorry, Harvard.” In the middle of the song, Manny Ramirez hit a walk-off three-run homer to win it for the Red Sox. Sportswatching clientele let off a cheer, which JoCo acknowledged and thanked them for.
The woman with the “Logan Airport” line asked Jonathan to play a song about the Sox – if not the Red Sox, at least the Black Sox. He obliged, with “Kenesaw Mountain Landis“, and then messed up in the middle (“Wow,” he said, and moved on). He introed his last song with something about audience participation and found that the entire crowd knew he was talking about “Re Your Brains.” He didn’t even bother explaining the singalong part: “Since you guys know it already, just go ahead and do it,” he said, and we all yelled, “All we want to do is eat your brains!”
At the end of the song, he walked offstage, and the crowd began to chant, “(Jon-a-than!) Coul-ton! (Jon-a-than!) Coul-ton!” which finally deteriorated into just, “Coul-ton! Coul-ton! Coul-ton!” until he, and Paul and Storm, reentered. They did “First of May,” then closed out with “Sweet Caroline” — which, as the BoSox’s unofficial anthem, got a satisfyingly ardent response; everyone joined in on the “ba-ba-ba”s and “So good! So good! So good!”s in the chorus. The only way it could’ve worked out better — have Manny’s homer come right before that.
It was 1 o’clock by then. Didn’t know if they were signing, and I didn’t have anything with me they could sign, and I was almost out of cash, and the T was closed, so I took a cab and went home, feeling so much less tetchy that I hardly noticed that the taxi hit every! single! red! light! on the way back to Cambridge.