Review: Jonathan Richman @ Club Helsinki

Richman was amazing — are you surprised?

What a treat to see him in such a tiny venue, too. It was our first trip to Great Barrington and to Club Helsinki. We happened to park in front of the famous local artist‘s shop, but she wasn’t in. Naturally, we had spotted a bookstore and went to explore before getting some dinner at Siam Square. Their steamed dumplings were maybe the best I’ve had anywhere, but the entrees, although very flavourful, lacked the promised heat. I had chosen the three chili-rated Hot Basil beef and it was barely spicy at all. I guess it was Massachusetts “hot.” We had a bottle of malbec that was delicious — of course I forget the name but it had a cat on the label with very long legs.

The club was just around the corner. Tiny! It seats about 80 I think, lots of little tables, bar and then a bank of maybe 20-30 chairs in rows in one leg of the L shaped space. The stage is in the middle of the L. We found out the thing to do was to reserve a table: we will next time, for sure. It would have been easier not to have to juggle our drinks, particularly as I found a wireless signal that allowed me to update Facebook from Ianto (yes, just to taunt everyone who was not there).

Hilton Valentine opened for Richman and he was terrific. He did a few songs on his own (yes, including “House of the Rising Sun”), then added a bass for a couple more (including a song about his hometown, Newcastle). Then he was joined by the rest of the band and they went all skiffle doing Cliff’s “Move it” and “20 Flight Rock” and encored with “Working Class Hero.” The crowd ate it up enthusiastically.

I won a dollar waiting in line for the toilets.

Richman and his drummer came out and set up their equipment themselves. The troubadour extraordinaire — he was just an endless delight, playful and fun and story telling and hopping off the tiny stage to step out into the tiny audience and sing right to us. He started with “No One was like Vermeer” and sang in French, Spanish, Italian as the mood struck him. He was meandering all over and playing with the microphone when it didn’t work. Richman’s songs are like flash fiction pieces you realise as he’s singing about the Marx Bros or why he doesn’t have a cell phone and never will or summer and winter and New England and the smell of the school bus in junior high (“2% cigarettes from those guys who sit in the back, 30% wool, 30% ice and snow and the rest…”). A lively intelligence and curiosity provide his restless muse. It’s a treat to see a performer like this. He rocks, he swings.

I shook his hand at the end (like most of the people there). Small venues are so wonderful.

Spotted this graffiti outside the club and decided it looked good under the mercury lights. Thanks to Gene for all the pictures. I had Ianto with me, but not my phone (as usual).

There was frost on the cars this morning as I went biking. I’ll have to find my gloves soon, as pulling the sleeves of my hoodie down over my knuckles is no longer enough. It was also suicidal squirrel day with a good bit of unexpected dodging to keep me on my toes. The geese have horned their way into Buckingham Lake and the heron seemed perturbed, but the ducks didn’t mind. All the green was covered with frost, though, so soon they’ll be crisping. The ankle is slowly improving — not quite back to normal, but it’s getting stronger.

*Review linked (thanks!).


  1. Yeah, New Englanders are known for their wimpy sense of spice…anything stronger than Heinz ketchup is too hot. I am the exception, of course. 😀

  2. The Queen says:

    Excellent review, Kate- and congrats on the big money win!Malbec has been my fave wine lately- I like Terrazzas best.

Comments are closed.