Like many people, I became a big Jonathan Coulton fan when his song Code Monkey became an internet hit. Aside from the geek factor, it turns out that he's a talented guitarist and songwriter of some depth. Since he's never come to Colorado before, I've been committed catching this show since it was scheduled back in early October. Walking into the Soiled Dove, which is a small, intimate club, I was struck by the multitude of longish haired, bearded, slightly overweight guys...these are my people.
The opening act was Paul and Storm, ex members (survivors) of the a cappella group Da Vinci's Notebook. They play with Jonathan fairly often and they describe their act as part music, part standup. True, but they were all funny. Most of the songs are performed with simple guitar accompaniment, with occasional keyboards. They started off with a meta-referential song about being the opening band and it just build from there. Lots of clever songs mixed with comedy bits kept the crowd laughing for the whole time. My favorite song was A Better Version of You, which explains to a kid that Mommy and Daddy are hoping to learn from their mistakes this time. I'll be sending that to my younger brother -- he can certainly appreciate it. The comedy bits ranged from humorous jingles (e.g. Pillsbury Cookie Dough) to short impressions (James Taylor on Fire) to longer bits like the Fighting Nuns. And did I mention the audience participation? Closing out the set, The Captain's Wife's Lament had us all method-acting as pirate geeks:
Give me an R --- "Arrrrrrrrrr!"
Give me 2 Rs --- "Arrrrrrrrrrrr, Arrrrrrr!"
Give me pi Rs --- "Arrrrrrrrrrr, Arrrrrrr, Arrrrrrrrrrrrr, Ar...."
Yes, that was exactly 3.14159 arrs. I was counting!
Wow, with an opening act like this, can JoCo measure up? Of course he can. He started out with the kind of clever, off-beat songs that he's most famous for. The opener, Better, is a break up song where the problem is that his partner has "changed". Also among the early songs in the set was one of my faves, Skullcrusher Mountain. He also played crowd favorites like Tom Cruise Crazy and his genre bending cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back.
If he were merely a clever, quirky guy, it would wear thin by the end of the show but Coulton also has a more sensitive side that brings depth to his show (and his song catalog). Songs like Saturday Boy (a Billy Bragg cover) and Space Doggity (a song about Laika, the first dog in space) pull the audience into a more intimate connection with Jonathan and his emotional world. He can evoke pathos and self-doubt and love without becoming schmaltzy (i.e. pulling a Manilow), which really makes you feel more human when you're listening. More importantly, he can smoothly shift between this and the oddball stuff, so there's a flow to the whole set.
Other high points included a cover of Birdhouse in Your Soul (They Might Be Giants), Paul and Storm joining in on Creepy Doll, and the final encore, First of May. This was a terrific show, hopefully the first of many for Jonathan Coulton in Denver. Check out his site for downloads and catch him live if you can.