Paul & Storm & Jonathan Coulton, February 21, 2010

I was a big fan of Dr. Demento growing up. The one station that played his show back in Ft. Lauderdale in the 80’s only ran it on Sunday night, well after bedtime. I would go to great lengths to listen, either pretending to sleep or rigging the tape deck on my stereo to record as much of it as possible. I was time-shifting well ahead of the curve there; adolescent me would have a complete cow if I showed him my RadioShark.

My affection for novelty music didn’t start there, though. I had several relics that, at least from my perspective, had always been in my collection. “Shaving Cream” by Benny Bell and “Beep, Beep” by the Playmates? Had them both, on 45. I’ve got a copy of “Shaddup You Face” by Joe Dolce around here somewhere, too- there’s an item that probably has to go with my Bill Dana LP’s as “comedy that would never happen in a million years now.” Needless to say I was primed for this sort of thing long before Weird Al came along.

There was a long time, however, where it seemed like Weird Al was suddenly the only game in town. I know intellectually that this probably wasn’t true, that it was the whims of my own musical taste pulling me in different directions. Most novelty music had been shunted to the realm of wacky morning radio shows, and much of that fell to the wayside, smashed against a wave of Howard Stern and the like, so maybe it’s not entirely me.

It’s from that place that I must shamefully admit that I knew absolutely nothing about Paul & Storm when we decided at the last minute to go to w00tstock 1.1 last October. While I’m ashamed of that fact, I think it’s also for the best as well. I use the term “novelty music” in reference to the acts of my past, but using it now for these guys pains me on some level. Like I’m sequestering them to the Archie McPhee circle of musical hell, though I suppose they might not take that as an insult.

I mainly feel bad using the term for them because they skip over the Dr. Demento part of my childhood and take me one level beyond all that. Instead the place where I’m hiding under the covers with my tape player listening to Barnes & Barnes, it’s a few years later, and now it’s my copies of Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small and Wild and Crazy Guy. I was years away from understanding half the jokes, but it was all still funny because Steve was funny. And, man, can that guy play a banjo.

I laughed so hard at w00tstock my throat was wrecked for days after. When P&S announced a show at Largo again, this time with bonus Jonathan Coulton, it was an easy sell.

It was an awesome show. I was worried I’d be let down after the pulse of raw energy that was w00tstock, but I wasn’t. We had a fun opening act from Chris Hardwick where we learned some creative new profanity, and Chris was attacked by some of Coulton’s gear. I would have loved to of seen more of Hard & Phirm, but that will possibly have to wait for w00tstock 2.x. Then, Paul and Storm came on.

The thing that strikes me the most about the duo is how in tune they are with each other on stage. It really is part vaudeville act, Storm’s unflappable straight man to Paul’s lovable geek goof. Their timing is dead on, and nowhere is that more obvious than “Nun Fight,” where they put down the instruments and go a cappella. I’ve seen them do it live twice now and their preternatural synchrony has yet to diminish in raw talent or humor.

They ended their set, of course, with “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament.” I was again worried that it wouldn’t compare to the seemingly never-ending barrage of funny that was the w00tstock performance, where they had Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage on stage with them. I really need to stop being worried by things like this, though, because it was just as much fun the second time around. (I’ve now discovered that the many rounds of ‘ARRRRRR!’ required for this song are what dooms my voice, though. Also, apologies to Wil, as I think I led the charge on ‘Wesley CrushARRRRRRRRRR!’ It couldn’t be helped.)

Speaking of Wil Wheaton, he opened things up after the intermission with a round of unfunny jokes. Only they were funny. Or he was funny. Or the finger-guns were funny. Or all three. Kew kew kew.

Now, as I implied earlier, I bought the tickets pretty much for Paul & Storm. I realize this might be a little outside the norm, what with Jonathan Coulton being relatively huge and all. Even I, who had let this sub-genre of music slip between my mental cracks, knew who he was prior to w00tstock. I like “Ikea,” and who didn’t love “Still Alive” from Portal. Where the entirety of w00tstock was an unknown to me, though, JoCo was the unknown for me here, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. I got “Still Alive” and a bunch of other enjoyable songs. Thinking about it now, a week later, I still have to say he had the best energy on stage when he was backed by Paul and Storm for songs like “Tom Cruise Crazy.” Whether that’s P&S elevating things on their own or just a byproduct of their obvious friendship, I’m not sure. I’m not saying Jonathan Coulton’s show was bad by any stretch of the imagination, far from it. But, save one exception, I had the best time in his set when everyone was on stage.

That one exception? “Mr. Fancy Pants.” (The video below is, obviously, not from our show, but it’s close enough.) When Jonathan put down the guitar and picked up his Zendrum (the object that had attacked Chris Hardwick at the start of the show), it was six or seven minutes of pure earwormy joy. We were singing bits of it around the Department for days.

After the show we hung around and managed to talk to some of the guys; they have the endearing habit of meeting folks after the show. We got a few minutes to talk to Wil, where I got to thank him for his inspirational part in us setting up this blog and talk to him about his upcoming second appearance on The Big Bang Theory. I got to take a picture of a bunch of people with Paul and Storm, because, hey, I studied cinematography, and I got to compliment Storm on his awesome Tron/Harley Davidson shirt. (Which, we would later sadly discover, was permanently discontinued by ThinkGeek.) We also managed to catch up with Josh Cagan– who had his own act, the Zapruder Thirty, at w00tstock 1.1- and his wife Kayla, whom we’ve been goofing off with on Twitter.  All in all, a most excellent way to spend a Sunday night.

As an aside, how much do we love Largo? We’ve been to w00tstock there, this show, and two Patton Oswalt shows, and Flanny and the gang at Largo just deliver one of the best live venue experiences in LA. If you’re in LA or planning to be here, check them out.

Watching all these guys perform and hanging around Largo has made me nostalgic for my theater tech days. Every time I go to their shows, I come out with an incredible urge to be a stage hand again. If anyone planning w00tstock 2.x finds this, we’re already working out how to hit Seattle and Portland for the shows. I would gleefully volunteer a strong back and a black tshirt to help you guys make magic.