3/22/08 - Variety Playhouse, Atlanta
Photo by Aaron Haley, not from this show though. From another show. But they still basically look like this. Honest. Source.
I was at the show last year when Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton hit Atlanta for the first time. It was pretty much a packed house at a smaller club called the Five Spot, which was an excellent venue, seeing as how you couldn’t be more than fifty feet from the stage, it seems.
The success of that show brought them back to a larger venue, the Variety Playhouse, and from what I could tell, they filled more than 2/3 of the seats. This will no doubt increase on their next visit: during a show of hands as to who had seen them at the previous show, enough people raised their hands that I swear the entire audience from that first show came back and brought friends. So by that math, within four years time, and given a show every six months, a Paul and Storm/Coulton show will be on a scale that even Hotblack Desiato would find impressive.
Paul and Storm and Coulton (which is this close to sounding like a demented law firm) make for a great team. Coulton’s songs have a surprising amount of sadness in them. Not to sound like one of those over-analyzing pricks who try to ruin everything, but I mean, damn, “Shop Vac,” for all of its bouncy fun, is about two profoundly miserable people who bought into what they figured was the American dream only to get to their destination and say, “Um.” I mean, honestly, “You can cry and I probably won’t hear you because it’s loud with the shop vac on.” We laugh at the song but we also understand where the characters are coming from. Perhaps a little too well.
Some songs stay at that level of almost what we would call morbid whimsy, but some start off with a great profound message and then veer into the profoundly silly. “The Future Soon” is a geek revenge anthem that goes from the standard geek alienation to dreaming about the future and when we’ll be able to change ourselves however we want to…killer robots stomping over mankind. Is there a single man in that audience who wasn’t nodding on some level and thinking, “See, Laura, this was all your fucking fault.”
That’s not to say Coulton is a somber individual. Far from it. He’s a crapload of fun, even when jetlagged from flying back from London. And there’s no other musician alive who can have, at the previous gig, people singing along perfectly with a song called “Mandelbrot Set.” This time around, two young ladies got up and spontaneously danced up towards the stage left side of the house.
Yes—dancing to songs about fractals. People wearing animated pong shirts and the animated reacting-to-sound-levels shirts and distracting the musicians (where, at any other gig, they would have asked politely, would you please turn that shit off). The guy with the animated sound shirt was using the light of it to sign Paul and Storm’s mailing list signup. Coulton can get a laugh at a line about a “taxonomical hit and run.” Or “Laugh it up, vertebrates.” A song about Pluto and Charon (the planets, mind you) is actually an excellent love ballad and goes over perfectly with the crowd. Welcome to the audience for one of these shows.
Update: Well, somebody had posted a song from this show, but then they had to go and freaking remove it. Weasels. Here’s something from another show that makes me feel fan-fucking-tastic.
Here they are now. Doing that singing thing.
What was I saying? Oh yes, teamwork. You see, Coulton is great, but for a “nerd” musician, his songs are surprisingly deep. Paul and Storm make a great counter to that.
Now—before I get anybody pissed off at me, I’m not saying Paul and Storm crank out nothing but fluff. But they are a Comedy with a capital C duo, and they know what’s funny. Putting Bob Dylan down a well is funny. Jingles about kitty litter are funny. References to “Storm Juice” are funny. Sea chanties that inspire the audience to bring along a visual aid (letters spelling out ARRR!—and yes, somebody was holding up an exclamation point). That’s pretty goddamn funny.
So together they’re…well, they’re the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of nerdcore music. You got your peanut butter in my…wait, I don’t have to explain that reference with this crowd. Anyway.
(Although for future reference, folks: you missed a golden opportunity to turn the damn ARRR! around to make RRRA! for “Re: Your Brains.” I mean, come on.)
Paul and Storm actually open with a song called “Opening Band” which caused a pantystorm to erupt from the audience. The line is “And, sad to say, as of today, no panties have been thrown,” which was quickly updated to be “eleven panties.” (Atlanta now holds the record.) They play with the audience well, and get lots of response to songs like “Nun Fight” (well, it’s a gregorian chant, but that counts).
They also played a song I hadn’t heard live before, called “A Better Version of You.” This song relates the story of parents breaking it to their five year old son that he’s going to be a big brother soon. “Thanks to the five years we’ve had you to practice on/ Now we know what not to do… Can you imagine the things he’ll achieve/ As a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief?”
For the record, my younger brother is five years younger and an extremely successful lawyer. Me? I write for websites like this. Conferring with Paul and Storm after their set, I learned that they are both younger siblings. And for writing that song, they are also both bastards. And I cried myself to sleep. I hope they’re happy.
The high point of the evening was “Soft Rocked,” where Paul and Storm (who take the stage with Coulton to provide back up vocals and other shenanigans) were doing vocals and also acting as horn section. Now, I can’t tell if this was staged or not, or planned, but Storm hijacked the song. Suddenly, the song became “Tequila Sunrise.” I don’t think it was planned, or if so, what followed certainly was not, as Paul and Storm dragged Coulton laughing through a medley of hits, including “Blue Bayou,” “Hey Jude” and finally finishing up with “Stairway to Heaven.” They never even made it back to the original song. It might be the funniest thing I’ve seen so far this year.
Seeing the three of them perform is an absolute hoot. It’s no wonder that everybody (or seemingly so) came back for the second Atlanta show. They are having a blast on stage and it’s infectious. There’s nothing like the feeling of having a huge sing along, in a room full of geeks, of “Sweet Caroline.” Where else can that happen? No place else.
If they’re coming to your town, you do yourself a disservice by not going. Paul and Storm’s website is here. Give them love. Jonathan Coulton’s website is here. He needs love too. Their tour schedules are here and here respectively. Tell them we said hi.
Widgett Walls is the chief cook and bottle washer for Needcoffee.com. He’s also the author of Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point and Magnificent Desolation. His personal blog is at WidgettWalls.com, which he updates when he feels like it. He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.
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