Jonathan Coulton In Boston: Geeks In Heaven At Sold Out Paradise

coultonOn the coldest night of the season, singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton was the hottest ticket in Boston.  Those thinking they could walk up to the Paradise box office an hour before showtime last Friday night and score a ticket were met with a white sheet of paper as cold as the wind chill — it said, “The Jonathan Coulton show is sold out, Please stop asking.”  Call it a total victory for the DIY musician, and a whipsmart fan base that knows what a gem he is.

Coulton is a former computer programmer who decided to stop writing code and start writing songs.  Not surprisingly — or maybe completely surprisingly — cleverness and smarts are the things that stand out the most in his tunes.  He crafts funny/sad, naughty/nice odes to underdogs and overachievers.  He’s a geek who both celebrates and skewers nerd culture.  He understands the heart of a lonely dude who can slay video game dragons — but can’t get up the courage to ask a girl for a date.  He knows how style can unfairly trump substance, and he’s fighting back with with wit, whimsy and talent.

So, what did our MMORPG troubadour bring to the Hub?  Well, he came out of the gates with two of his best — and catchiest tunes “Skullcrusher Mountain” and “The Future Soon.”  Both are songs about mad scientist types who go to hilarious extremes to woo the girl of their dreams.  In “Skullcrusher” it’s by making a horrible pet out of a pony and a monkey … in “Future” it’s by literally engineering away physical inadequacies.  Oh yeah, they’re both wrapped around melodies that would make the boys in Fountains Of Wayne proud.

A Jonathan Coulton show comes with few bells and whistles.  It’s Coulton, his guitar, and the stage banter that naturally occurs between the artist and his fans.  In fact, the Paradise almost felt more like a theatre than a bar for this show … chairs covered the entire floor area.  That probably cut down on the number of tickets that could be sold, but it also created sort of a rowdy theatre-in-the-round feel that worked really well.  One liners were knocked back and forth with refreshing regularity.

A large chunk of the crowd was made up with employees from Cambridge-based Harmonix — the company that invented Guitar Hero and now produces Rock Band.  Coulton, and opening act Paul and Storm appeared at the company earlier in the day.  Coulton is a hero in the gamer world for composing the song “Still Alive” for the video game “Portal.”  That’s a song that only a select group of people really know, yet when Coulton sang it on stage just about everyone in the Paradise sang along word for word.  No record company?  No problem.  Coulton has found other ways to win over an audience.

Other highlights from the night included a hilarious zombie chorus for Coulton’s ballad to the undead, a very funny song for new parents with the lyrics, “You’ve ruined everything/In the nicest way.”  And of course “Code Monkey” — the closest thing Coulton has to a “hit” record.  Of course anyone with shred of geek cred has that song in heavy rotation on their iPod.  He wrapped up the show with “Sweet Caroline” but this crowd really didn’t need the shout out to the Sox … their hero was dressed in jeans and a faded green t-shirt — not a uniform.

Opening act Paul and Storm, who pretty much tour exclusively with Coulton, deserve a major shout out too.  This talented duo are a sort of an American version of Flight of the Conchords — they do some spot-on parodies of James Taylor, Bob Dylan and Randy Newman.  They also dabble in product jingles that are just priceless.  These guys can sing too, and they did terrific backing vocals on a number of Coulton’s songs.  Just a great night of music and mischief.

Now both Coulton and Paul and Storm make their living through the web and live shows.  Please go to their official sites and drop a little cyber coin.  You’ll be getting more than you money’s worth.


2 Responses

  1. He didn’t add “Sweet Caroline” just for Boston; it’s the traditional second song of his encore.

  2. A pony and several monkeys, remember. Maybe even too many.

    I find it interesting that you describe ‘You Ruined Everything’ as ‘very funny’. He usually makes a point of saying that despite the name, it’s not supposed to be funny.

    Anyway, great review!

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