Eccentric Coulton headlines Variety Playhouse

Lively Saturday nights are frequent in bohemian Little Five Points. This was especially true last week when eccentric singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton, as well as the amusing musical duo Paul and Storm, hit the stage at the Variety Playhouse.

To briefly inform those who’ve missed out in the past few years, Jonathan Coulton’s musical career began in the form of weekly podcasts titled “Thing a Week,” during which he wrote and sang new songs ranging from geeky and spunky to disturbingly humorous.

Coulton, a self-described geek, has been writing, performing, recording and giving away his music for years. He is an unusual guy known for writing funny and unusual music on a wide variety of topics—robots, monkeys, Tom Cruise, soft drinks, Ikea, etc. Think of the most random thing ever, and Jonathan Coulton has probably written a song or two about it. This up-and-coming internet music star is currently trying to see if it’s possible to make a living as an independent musician without a label. A lot of his music can be downloaded for free on his website.

Paul and Storm opened at the Variety Playhouse that night. It seemed unfortunate that a good majority of the crowd (myself included) hadn’t heard of the pair until then—all based on a show of hands, at least. This would change quickly as they started with the appropriately titled “We Are the Opening Band,” a song that’s so comically self-defeating that it literally caused panties to be flung onto the stage (11, as they counted out!).

From there on Paul and Storm captivated the audience with their off-beat, folksy-sounding repertoire, which contained tunes that ranged from a tribute to the little-known inventor of chicken nuggets, “Nugget Man,” to their personal take on a song for Schoolhouse Rock, the deceptively-named “Count to Ten.” They also belted out a series of quirky jingles for products such as Kleenex, Twister, Cheetos and Fresh Step Kitty Litter. While a good number of these songs might be inappropriate for public airwaves, their outlandish lyrics sung to such a traditional sound got more than just a few giggles.

Culminating in their finale, the cheering crowd took on the role of some 400 pirates for a ballad of seaside woes from the perspective of a captain’s wife in “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament.”

When Jonathan Coulton took the stage shortly after, things seemed to begin on a somewhat hushed note. Launching almost immediately into “The Future Soon,” the tale of a spurned, vengeful nerd and his plans for the future, Coulton proceeded into “Ikea,” a satirical look at the Swedish craze found in the home of many a college student and divorced bachelor. From there on, with the crowd’s appetite for the crooning, shaggy-haired singer whetted. Coulton quickly picked up momentum.

Someone who has heard some of Coulton’s livelier tunes might initially be disappointed with his solo use of an electric acoustic guitar and vocals, but many songs sounded just as good, if not better, than the recorded tracks.

Even the rather upbeat rock tune “Code Monkey” took on a more melancholy tone that worked just as well in comparison. This isn’t to say that Coulton was all on his own throughout the show, as Paul and Storm arrived back on the stage to provide backup vocals, the liberal use of maracas and tambourines and a good deal of on-stage humor between the trio.

Coulton drew just as many entranced moments of silence as he did laughter with some songs that hit a pensive quality that was just as enjoyable as the funny and geeky ones that dealt with love-struck mad scientists and the Mandelbrot Set. It’s almost a pity that Jonathan, Paul and Storm aren’t officially an act of their own, but what’s certain is that anyone with even a remotely developed sense of humor should be on the lookout for whenever they’re coming back to Atlanta.