Modern Lovers, Live at the Longbranch and More

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 10.25.11 in Reviews
A raw but invaluable portrait of a great lost American rock band

The early incarnation of Jonathan Richman’s band the Modern Lovers recorded just enough in the studio to hint at how amazing they were – but by the time their few demo sessions were released, they had long since broken up. This live album documents sets from 1971-73 (and overlaps with the recordings on Precise Modern Lovers Order). The recording is raw, but invaluable as a portrait of a great lost American rock band. This version of the Modern Lovers was deeply indebted to the Velvet Underground – both in their instrumental attack and in Richman’s presence as an uptight, adenoidal, passionately square and nerdy singer who sounds nothing at all like Lou Reed but would never have been able to sound like he does without Reed’s example. (The two covers they play are the Velvets’ then-unreleased “Foggy Notion” and an “old one”: ? and the Mysterians’ then-five- or six-year-old “96 Tears.”) But they also had a very distinct personality of their own, and it comes out especially in the crawlingly slow, emotional songs (scattered between the rave-ups) that gave Richman a chance to improvise earnest spiels. Highlights here include “A Plea for Tenderness,” which suddenly sounds like it used to be an Otis Redding-style deep-soul ballad, and an “I’m Straight” (this time dedicated to tearing down a “Hippie Ernie” rather than “Hippie Johnny”) that cranks up both the hilarity and the awkwardness of the familiar version.