The Washington Post
Will Oldham and Jonathan Richman made an odd, and oddly compelling, couple at the Lincoln Theatre.
Depending on how you look at it — or, perhaps, how you saw it, if you were at the Lincoln Theatre on Saturday evening — the idea of Will Oldham and Jonathan Richman performing together on a double-act bill feels either like a goofy junction or a genius collision between two men who traffic in extremely different strains of emotional mysticism.
Oldham’s darkish, wandering mien — found across his routine penance to Kentucky and death via softly crushing Appalachian balladry as Bonnie “Prince” Billy — alongside Richman’s eternal, doe-like earnestness — first with the proto-punk Modern Lovers, then as the Massachusetts-adoring, Raffi-meets-the-velvet-underground solo work — together formed a blended, near-holy reverie for the smallness of being alive.
Abruptly, Oldham announced himself onstage by entering in a neoprene balaclava alongside guitarist Emmett Kelly. The lights remained on for the duration of the show — mercy for the nearsighted — which made it easy to distinguish the pretty pickwork and knowing glances between Kelly and Oldham as they shuttled across a body of latest work, greatest work and a whoop-laden cover (with a barefoot Oscar Lee Riley Parsons) of Roger Miller’s “Dang Me.”
Richman, who arrived after intermission by blinding the audience with a private smile, held the permanent air of someone promised a mysterious treat in the near future. Tommy Larkin, a sagacious and longtime tour companion, joined Richman with a pair of bongos as more of a spiritual accompaniment than a musical one. Barely padding the heels of his hands against the skins of his drums, Larkin’s gentle patter coaxed Richman to dance like a flopsy rabbit in soft pants and a billowy shirt the color of milk chocolate.
Both retain a plucked-fromtime quality about them: Oldham looks so arrestingly like a living tintype portrait of a Civil War soldier that even his light razzing about Joe Biden felt like an oration from a century-and-a-half ago; Richman, whose eyes are as wide and mournful as a cat’s, and who maintains a purity of perception like a monk or a child’s, was exactly as boyish as he was on the portrait on the cover of his 1985 release with the Modern Lovers, “I’m Just Beginning to Live.”
During a moment toward the middle of the set, a woman got up from her seat and began writhing noiselessly to Richman’s guitar. It was enough to warrant a turn and a pause by most of the audience, but it mirrored Oldham’s swanlike motions later that evening as he joined Richman in a hotly anticipated, all-hands performance. Later, another row rose to join in the silent, squirming worship during the crowd-pleasing “I Was Dancing at the Lesbian Bar.” They all moved joyously and freely, like wacky inflatable tube men used to advertise car dealerships on the side of the road, or dervishes — each one inspired by the orphic potion of the pair onstage and their funny, earthbound vision of the sublime.