Jonathon Coulton at Guthrie Theater, 4/25/11
April 25, 2011
Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
Jonathon Coulton is one of many people in the digital age that became famous as a direct result of the existence of the internet. He began by releasing songs directly to iTunes and other outlets. Coulton is a bit different, however, in that he has parlayed his initial 15 minutes of fame into a full-blown career--the difference being he had actual talent to back up and legitimize himself among the often fleeting interests of net-based goofiness. Sure, the poppy, acoustic songs are often about something as simple and mundane as household appliances ("Shop Vac") and more than a few songs make reference to robots, outer space and sci-fi in general, but at their core all the songs have heart and regardless of the subject are well-written and catchy. "Chocolate Rain" this isn't.
As he opened with "Skullcrusher Mountain," it was striking what a perfect set starter the song was. Written in the style of a love ballad but told from the point of view of a Dr. Moreau-like villain who--among other things--makes his potential girlfriend a present out of a pony and a monkey, it incorporates much of what Coulton's work represents. Anyone who was unfamiliar with Coulton was immediately pulled into his world and would not be let out for next 90+ minutes. He played some new, somewhat more introspective and almost--almost--serious material such as "I'm Your Moon," which he jokingly claimed Charon had written for Pluto after it had been declassified as a planet. "Good Morning, Tucson" found him back in the midst of ridiculousness, singing about the odd sterility of morning show sets and the stiff, often overly tired anchors that host such shows. "Don't worry," he quipped at one point, "the new stuff isn't 40-minute jazz odysseys. Ok, well, there's one 40-minute jazz odyssey."
He brought openers (and frequent tour mates) Paul and Storm out for a few songs and much of the between song banter became almost stand-up comedy in a sense, with them playfully arguing about how many egg shakers would be appropriate for one of Coulton's best-known songs, "Code Monkey" and then taking a joke so far with all three of them laughing so hard before "Space Doggity" (a ballad about Laika, the first dog in space), that Coulton decided to move on and revisit that particularly sad song a bit later in the set. The trio also managed to transform "Soft Rocked By Me," a song that mocks the AM Gold-type rock of the '70s, into a bizarre, amusing mash up of Bob Seger's "Like A Rock" and Coulton's own "Bus Plunge" sung to the tune of "The Love Boat."
The rest of Coulton's set from then on cruised; a song about how he hates shopping but will play along for the sake of his marriage here, another about a possibly murderous doll ("Creepy Doll") there and finished up with what was clearly the crowd favorite, "Re: Your Brains" complete with much of the crowd loudly making zombie moaning noises at the appropriate times.
Coulton then went into a funny monologue about how the show "is done" and "I won't be back," using air quotes to indicate there would certainly be an encore. Then proceeded fully explained that there would be an encore and how he would wait for cheering while standing backstage for a tasteful amount of time. It was two quick songs, but one of them was a particularly great cover of They Might Be Giants' "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" with Paul and Storm. And with that, it was over. There were no frills, there was no posturing by audience members, and a complete lack of pretense for the entire hour and a half show. It was just a good-natured nerd with his acoustic guitar and it was surprising what a breath of fresh air it had been when it was all said and done.
Critic's Bias: I had never heard a Jonathon Coulton song before this show, I was expecting something much less sophisticated than what I got.
The Crowd: So many people were yelling for particular songs that it became fairly annoying (clearly to Coulton, as well) about three songs into the set.
Overheard In The Crowd: A lot of pirate "arrrs" carried over from a joke started during Paul and Storm's set that somehow wouldn't die. After the initial humor wore off, it was funny only if they were poorly timed.
Random Notebook Dump: Coulton is James Taylor for nerds.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.