Jonathan Richman & the Morells Parody Hall-KC April 28, 1982
For some reason, I came to this show thinking that I was going to see Richman and the Morells, at this point in time my favorite live band, putting their collective energies together onstage. I should have known better. As my friend Joe Klopus puts it, Richman is always alone. Even back-up musicians are incidental. And it was really about the Morells, all Richman fans, wanting to turn Midwestern audiences onto his unique music, most of it released on the delightfully titled Beserkley Records.
So on this night the Morells, generally the headliners when they play Parody Hall, come out and kick ass for a couple of hours, working the audience to a frenzied peak, bassist Lou Whitney leading the descent into musical bliss.
After the set is over, everybody is hot and sweaty and obviously still ready to rock, and on comes Richman with just an electric guitar turned down singing some song about “Bermuda.” The audience is confused from the get-go. Some are walking around the dance floor, while others are sitting on the front of the stage drinking, talking, drinking, talking, paying no attention to the headliner. A hardcore group of Richman freaks can be spotted in the seats in the front middle, calling for favorites. The dancers don’t know what the hell to do.
There are plenty of Richman dissenters in the crowd, but at least they didn’t boo or heckle the guy. Richman seems oblivious to the fact that people come here to dance and sweat. He just goes from one song to another in his shy, graceful way.
Most of the dissenters left, and about thirty minutes into the set, the uninitiated were bouncing along with Richman’s eccentric, slightly warped, simple, moralistic songs. Not dancing, but almost …
As the set wore on, a theme emerged. One song used “someone you love, someone you care about” as the chorus, another called “Affection” was about how people don’t really communicate easily with each other and that he feels isolated and that this whirling mass of humanity is overpowering him. And yet he just sings on, and he completely wins over the remaining crowd. A very gutsy performance.
Among the songs he played on this night were “Rockin Robin,” “Egyptian Reggae,” “Ice Cream Man,” “Here Come the Martian Martians,” “That Summer Feeling,” “Trust Your Friends,” “Something You Love,” “Abominable Snowman,” “Neighbors” and “Tahitian Hop.”
I talked with Richman for a couple minutes just before he went on, and he said he met the Morells backstage at a Steve Forbert show in New York (the Morells backed Forbert here one night) and that he had been corresponding with guitarist Danny Thompson ever since. Thompson invited him to work with them if he ever wanted to tour the Midwest, and he took them up on it.
It has been a couple of years since his last album, and he said he had severed all ties with Matthew Kaufmann and Beserkley Records, his label of many years, and hired another manager and was working on a new record deal.
“He and I have differences about business,” he said as he leaned away and smiled as the Morells banged out “Jackson” about ten feet away. I asked him about a recent bootleg on Mohawk records, and he made a motion with his boots, leaned over and said he’d like to break the owner’s head. “I don’t get any royalties for that stuff.”
(This is one in a continuing series of recollections and notes I made while covering music for The Kansas City Times in the late 1970s and early 1980s.)