Three Soundboard Shows 1978-'79 [no label 1CD Torrent: 79224]

It would be unfair to describe Jonathan Richman's 1977-78 European breakthrough as unexpected - "Roadrunner" had been percolating as a legend round the UK underground for two years before a timely reissue sent it soaring up the chart, while the accompanying Rock'n'Roll With The Modern Lovers album remains the most time-and-place perfect disc in Richman's entire oeuvre.

Two Top 30 follow-up singles ("Egyptian Reggae" and "The Morning Of Our Lives") were harder to predict, however, while a string of sold out concert dates around the continent must have come as a hell of a surprise to a band that was more accustomed to playing to a cellarful of friends in the Boston suburbs.

They adapted well, however, and if the official Modern Lovers Live album stands as the definitive document of their summer in the sun, this package runs it a close second, all the more so since the track listing offers up a far more representative sampling of the what the band was actually all about on stage

The three shows here - two from TV, one from a festival - date from the year after those shows. Back In Your Life was fresh on the shelves, "Abdul and Cleopatra" was threatening to become the band's next hit single, and the Modern Lovers seemed seriously destined to break out among the biggest bands of the age. And, maybe, had they not been so damnably willful, they'd have succeeded.

Richman made little secret of the fact that the Modern Lovers debut album no longer figured in his life, and he seemed constantly baffled that audiences should still be clinging to it - so baffled that he all but disowned it in concert. The three performances here range across Richman's entire career, but the emphasis is so firmly drawn away from that epochal first waxing that, even at encore time, in front of however many thousand howling fans at the Pink Pop Festival, he's happier premiering a new song ("Affection") than actually giving the crowd what they were obviously expecting.

The sets here are largely similar - the Dutch TV show is more heavily weighted towards Back In Your Life, but still finds room for "Egyptian Reggae" and "I'm A Little Aeroplane"; the festival date concentrates on Rock'n'Roll With; the closing French broadcast includes an ad for Crazy Eddie, and a couple of new songs. But all three bear renditions of "Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket," and Richman is in full folky-nursery-whimsy mode throughout.

The sound quality varies. The Dutch TV show is nigh-on perfect, but the festival is muddy, and the French offering wanders between the two and is, in any case, marred by an announcer who feels the need to chatter over both an otherwise unaccompanied Richman's own between song banter, and even the intros to the songs. Nevertheless, as a record of a moment when all commercial predictions were thrown out of the window, and a wiry little New Englander singing songs about leprechauns, mosquitoes and Yeti looked set to conquer the world, this set has few peers. - Dave Thompson

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