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Concert Review: Jonathan Coulton with Paul & Storm – The Birchmere, Alexandria, Va., 8/13/07

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If you're ever unsure whether to spend an evening seeing live music or at a comedy club, check to see if Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm are in town, because you'll get plenty of both.  They are the Razzles of live entertainment.  

Coulton has gained fame in the past two years through his folky cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" and songs about loveless mad scientist and software developers.  Since the end of his Thing A Week podcasts, one year ago this week, he has only released one song, but toured extensively between small clubs, science fiction conventions, and folk and comedy festivals to rave reviews and growing audiences.

Paul & Storm, who were previously in the popular a cappella group Da Vinci's Notebook were there to celebrate the release of their third CD, Gumbo Pants.  The duo are regular contributors to the nationally syndicated Bob & Tom radio show and have been touring with Coulton on and off since Memorial Day Weekend 2006.  

Paul & Storm went on first beginning fittingly with "Opening Band," their tribute to the unsung heroes who exist "to do five or six or seven songs/don't be long/and get the hell off the stage."  From there they did some hysterical parodies of Schoolhouse Rock songs, rejected commercials ("When you finish your Domino's Pizza/Eat the box because it tastes the same"), and examples of movie themes, if they had been written by Randy Newman.  

Coulton came out to provide some harmony on "Nugget Man," they're tribute to chicken nugget creator Robert C. Baker, a song made more relevant by this past Tuesday's death of Robert Johnson, who held the first patent on a nugget-making machine.  Paul & Storm finished their one hour-and-fifteen-minute set with "Six Guys, Ten Teeth," a breathless take on a rednecks' night on the town.

Coulton opened his set, as usual, with "The Future Soon," a deliciously ironic tale of a teenage geek's fantasy to get the girl of his dreams.  The audience also heard the rarely played "Better," and the debut performance of "Octopus," his only post-Thing A Week song to date.  In between were longtime favorites like "Code Monkey," "Skullcrusher Mountain," and "Re: Your Brains."  

Throughout the evening, the stage was pelted with stuffed animals in tribute to the many animal references in his songs.  The high point came almost an hour in while Paul & Storm were on stage helping out with harmonies on "Creepy Doll."  Paul noted that a newly thrown animal had a message asking if Coulton would you play his bachelor party for a trip to Vegas, complete with gambling per diem and buffet coupons.  When Coulton told the prospective groom to send him an e-mail about it, the man replied that Neil Diamond told him the same thing.  That led to an impromptu sing-along of "Sweet Caroline" that brought down the house.

The pairing is a perfect fit.  Their humor complements each other very well.  Paul & Storm are broad, with plenty of puns, dirty jokes and pop culture references. But they do it in a manner that still has respect for the audience's intelligence.  Coulton, on the other hand, is more subtle.  Imagine a movie where Tom Lehrer provides the soundtrack for a Douglas Adams screenplay directed by Billy Wilder.  

Also, musically, both acts come from similar backgrounds in a capella (Coulton was a member of The Whiffenpoofs while at Yale), so when they sit in on the other's set, as they frequently do, their voices blend exceptionally well.  You can also see that they've become good friends in the time they've spent traveling together.

The biggest problem faced by most comedic musicians is that after a while the jokes cease to be funny because the listener loses the sense of surprise.  But Jonathan Coulton's and Paul & Storm's works hold up to repeated listening because they're also very well-written songs, with solid melodies, rich harmonies and perfect pop choruses. The songs also translate to live settings because there are always a few people who are hearing them for the first time, and their laughter becomes infectious.  And both acts are very skilled at bringing the audience into the show through stage banter.  Don't miss this show when it comes to your town.

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About Dave Lifton

  • Gina

    Fantastic concert. I had a blast!

    But it was the 31st, not the 13th, as the title says.

  • Yay! Awesome! Wish I could have been there.