Belly Up Tavern, Monday, December 3, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $15
Iggy Pop and Frank Black and the Violent Femmes all have Jonathan Richman in common, but you're not likely to get the connection without having heard "Roadrunner" first. Richman's masterpiece in simplicity was recorded in 1970. Lionized in Great Britain then as the progenitor of punk (the Sex Pistols covered "Roadrunner," which has since been called the first punk-rock song), Richman's earliest incarnation of the Modern Lovers was heavily influenced by the two- and three-chord mentality of the Velvet Underground. Later, when Richman tired of playing loud and shifted abruptly to something more laid back, he became a career singer/songwriter bent on portraying the antithesis of all of rock's big excesses and glamorous predictability. Richman's sound, beloved as it may be, is low rent and not at all hip, and in a plain voice he sings the simplest of lyrics: "I say, hey there, little hornet, buzzing around me/ It sounds like a warning, and it kind of scares me/ Well, hey there, little insect, please calm down/ So we can have fun and fool around."
The Godfather of Punk, as Richman has been called, has earned a legion of fans with a music that defies description. If I had to pin down what he and drummer Tommy Larkins are doing at present, I'd call it '50s rock balladeering -- with a twist. It leaves room for a fertile imagination to create a deeper meaning where perhaps there is none. This, I think, is the hook. Richman's writing instigates a listener to transpose whatever pathos the mood inspires onto the uneven surface of his music. But absorb enough of Richman and you begin to see him as an eccentric who is deconstructing rock in much the same way that Andy Kaufman deconstructed comedy. Like Kaufman, Richman is in equal measures brazen and childish and maybe brilliant, and that's what's delicious about the Godfather. You are left to wonder, "Who is this guy? Is he for real?"
JONATHAN RICHMAN, Belly Up Tavern, Monday, December 3, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $15.