Still alive…

Blogs Monday-Wednesday-Friday this week. New Dork Tower cartoons Tuesday-Thursday, as I attempt to crawl out from this mountain of work and get the website back on track.


Had a great time at the Madison Jonathan Coulton concert last Thursday, thanks for asking. Even with an ice-storm that hit midway through the show, so the sound of windshields being scraped afterwards was almost as predominant as people singing along to “Skullcrusher Mountain.”

“This really is a Con crowd,” noted Judith, who was a Coulton concert newbie.

The thing that’s always struck me about Jonathan Coulton’s music is the sheer, transcendent beauty of it. Sure, a song may be about a giant squid, but the hooks themselves are heartbreakingly lovely. As is the case with the Flight of the Conchord’s best stuff, you add some mainstream lyrics to them, and you have songs Fountains of Wayne would easily get their next big hit with. “We keep on trying ’til we run out of cake,” lyrically, to me, anyway, strikes as deep a chord as “It doesn’t matter if we ever meet again: What we have said will always remain.”

Back to Thursday: Judith and I had a terrific time – indeed, she raved about Paul and Storm’s opening set and Jonathan Coulton’s headlining performance well into the weekend, to anyone who’d listen.

The odd thing, though – and I noticed this last time the trio was in town – was how the crowd reacted to them.

In a past life, I was a music writer for the main city paper, and I’d have to cover hundreds of live concerts. Nine out of ten of them, I could care less about. But it was that tenth show – that magical, beautiful tenth show – that kept me coming back for more.

Of course, I’d try and be as objective as I could about every concert I covered. I may not be a great Melissa Etheridge fan (past her singles, anyway), but by god, would she give her fans a show to remember, and I respected the hell out of her for that. Though I’d be in the fetal position at the back of the theater, silently begging for her NOT to launch into a third hour of material, few performers gave as much – so my reviews would praise her to the skies.

Jonathan Coulton, when last in Madison, played the tiny Majestic Theater, and while it was packed, there was an intimacy to the show that seemed special. Though the Barrymore Theater is far larger, that intimacy remained in Thursday’s performance, as Coulton ran through standards such as “Code Monkey,” “Skullcrusher Mountain” and “Re: Your Brains” before a decent-sized crowd that knew every lick and lyric like they knew the extras on a Battlestar Galactica Season One DVD collection.

Which is probably why I enjoyed some of the surprises Coulton had in store – a brilliant take on Billy Joel’s “Pressure,” for example – more than the standards. These were songs the crowd <i>didn’t</i> know every word to, and the only person singing them was Coulton himself – in other words, the person we <i>paid</i> to listen to.

“Mr. Fancypants” was given a very different take live than its recorded version, and also left the audience enthralled but unable to sing along. The Geek in me revelled in the closeness between Paul and Storm and Coulton, and their fans. It was indeed a “Con crowd,” and like so much of geek fandom, was full of win – enthused and appreciative, knowledgeable and comfortable.

But the Music Critic in me wanted to hear <i>Jonathan Coulton</i> singing “Still Alive,” not the guys sitting behind me (who made up in Bravery what they lacked in actual Note-Hitting Ability).

Now, of course, some songs, like “Re: Your Brains,” actually <i>require</i> crowd participation, and are the stronger for it. But others don’t – and at one point, even Coulton commented that the crowd’s attempts to clap in time with the music were throwing him off. The good-natured crowd seemed not to believe this, and half continued during the next chorus, regardless.

As I hope I noted, I love geek crowds. These are my people: or rather, I’m one of them. But wow, did I want to hear Coulton unaccompanied by several hundred others that night – especially given the Very Good acoustics of the Barrymore.

I don’t think I’m being overly curmudgeonly: we had a great time, and it was a superb show. I don’t want to give the impression this ruined the concert for me – it certainly didn’t. The audience did nothing really untoward, and every man-jack (and woman-jill, I suppose) of them seemed to be sterling folks.

Still, has anyone else ever felt the same way, though? Do crowd dynamics sometimes leave you nonplussed? I can’t be the only person who’d love to see Jonathan Coulton’s terrific vocals and solid musicianship shine in a great venue.

I know it’s only geeky rock and roll, but I like it.


One person not singing along was a lady three rows in front of us,trying to capture the entire concert on her cell-phone.

The whole night, she stared into the two-inch-by-two-inch viewer of her device, while the Real-Life, Actual-Size Jonathan Coulton was mere feet away from here, singing his heart out.

Still, she’ll have a blurry, two-inch tall reminder of the show, with awful sound and an wretched picture, for years to come.

I’m thinking she missed something, that night.


In a horribly English, uncomfortable, Arthur Dent/Douglas Adams way, I found this kind of amusing. Or is “painful” the word I’m looking for?

Before Thursday’s show, I was privileged to have dinner with Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton, discussing some things that may or may not be announced soon, but we’ll see.

“The weather here is awful,” they noted, as a cold, miserable, pre-ice rain drizzled down upon Madison.

“Yes, but it’s a LOT worse just a little further north,” I said. “Do you read Neil Gaiman’s blog?”

“Um, yes,” they said, in the kind of way that people say “Um, yes,” when you ask a question like “clouds sometimes appear in the sky, don’t they?”

Two days later, after their Minneapolis concert, I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s blog, and I see many photos of him, and Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton. Many. Did I mention “many”?

Do they read Neil Gaiman’s blog? Try: Do They Hang Out With Neil Gaiman Backstage; Do They Have Neil Gaiman Onstage Playing Tambourine With Them; Do They Stay At Neil Gaiman’s House; Do They Play With Neil Gaiman’s Dog; and, Do They Have Breakfast Neil Gaiman Made, With Neil Gaiman, At Neil Gaiman’s Breakfast Table, Most Likely With Honey Neil Gaiman Harvested, And Wow, I’m Surprised Neil Gaiman Didn’t Pick Their Tea Leaves Himself, Now That You Come To Mention It?

All of which I discovered, by the way, because I read Neil Gaiman’s blog.

Yeah. Um…I think I’ll shut up, now.

Cartooning is HARD when you find yourself with your foot in your mouth so very, very often…


Since we’re talking Jonathan Coulton, here’s a monkey.



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