The Washington Post

Will Old­ham and Jonathan Rich­man made an odd, and oddly com­pelling, cou­ple at the Lincoln Theatre.

- BY MINA TAVAKOLI style@wash­ Entertainment · Arts · Will Oldham · Will Oldham · Kentucky · Massachusetts · Roger Miller · Joe Biden · Jonathan Richman · Raffi · Emmett Kelly

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.

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 ?? MICKIE WIN­TERS ?? Will Old­ham, known as Bon­nie “Prince” Billy, joined Jonathan Rich­man for a dou­ble-act bill at the Lincoln Theatre on Satur­day.
MICKIE WIN­TERS Will Old­ham, known as Bon­nie “Prince” Billy, joined Jonathan Rich­man for a dou­ble-act bill at the Lincoln Theatre on Satur­day.

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