Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm at Ram’s Head in Annapolis

Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton on Stage together

On 30 June 2021, I attended my first concert since COVID-19 started. I was masked since the Delta variant is a thing and singing indoors is definitely an activity that increases transmission. Despite that, it was awesome to get to do it again and there was a real sense of joy in the room from both the audience and the performers at once again being able to engage in the ancient human ritual of enjoying music as a crowd. 

This concert, which had already been delayed some 18ish months, was the first time I saw Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm live in person. Daniel introduced me to JoCo somewhere around 10-15 years ago when he was mostly making songs satirizing nerd and office culture. Or just pop culture with songs like Tom Cruise Crazy or Ikea. His biggest claim to fame is the ending music to Portal and Portal 2. More recently he released Solid State a concept album that splits the difference between his nerdier lyrics and regular pop/alternative lyrics. This was then followed up by an album of 1970s covers. 

I can’t fully remember if Paul and Storm came to my attention by way of the Jonathan Coulton kickstarter for Solid State or from Randall Munroe of XKCD who did the cover of their last album, Ball Pit. I then binged their songs on Spotify for a while and discovered various videos of their performances on the JoCo Cruise and told myself I’d see them live if I could.

Naturally, for a band with a song called Opening Band, Paul and Storm opened the night.

They revealed this was their second performance since COVID as a play for sympathy from the audience. It was also a segue into their song Write Like the Wind:

They mentioned the only lyric that was inaccurate (9 years after having debuted the song) was that GRRM’s slow writing style did NOT hold up the Game of Thrones TV show. From there, the set proceeded as a musical comedy show. Between each song was a comedic riff or tangent that showcased how good the band is at playing off the audience. This turned out to be both a good and a bad thing. Ram’s Head On Stage in Annapolis has seating like a comedy club. Everyone’s at a table and it’s an extremely small venue. It led to some great intimate moments with the band and some great riffing, but give a crowd an inch and they’ll take a mile. By the end, maybe because of drinking or maybe just people being people, some folks in the crowd were starting to get a little annoying with their constant attempts to make themselves the center of attention. Both Paul and Storm and JoCo have been doing this for 20 or so years so they can quickly regain control. Also, they don’t have the fragile egos you sometimes see when comedians are getting interrupted. They just redirected the flow like comedy kung fu masters. As per usual, the ended with The Captain’s Wife’s Lament which took about 15-20 minutes to get through. I’d see them live again anytime.

After a short intermission it was time for Coulton to take the stage. He had, in my opinion, the perfect set for someone that’s been making music as long as he has. He performed songs from all over his catalog and I knew all but maybe 3 of them by heart so it was fun to sing along. He wasn’t as chatty between songs, but there were still some pretty funny segues. For the older songs, this was Coulton as I had experienced him most – with just an acoustic guitar. (For a while now he’s done some recording and touring with a full band). For the newer songs it was a nice little change; pared down. He did a fun medley with Paul and Storm near the end that was reminiscent of this song from The Axis of Awesome:

Essentially a bunch of songs that either had a similar melody or similar enough for him to seamlessly transition. 

A real rocker moment during the Creepy Doll song

When the concert first started, Paul and Storm asked the audience to raise their hands if they’d never heard of the band. Somewhere between 15 and 25% of the audience raised their hands. I heard them laughing as they heard the various punchlines in the songs so I’d say if they’re in town it’s ok to bring friends and family who’ve never heard them before. While they can be as silly as Weird Al (or in JoCo’s case darkly humorous), the songs aren’t parodies of pop songs so you don’t need to know the original song to get all the enjoyment out of it. 

All in all, a great outing (now that we can have outings) and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for them when they swing by again. Now, all of this happened (and I wrote all of this blog post) way before the COVID-19 Delta Variant was raging through America and making us rethink whether things were going to re-open. However, I thought this monologue that Jonathan Coulton gave about how COVID-19 has made him appreciate his pre-COVID life and not get so annoyed at the little things involved in being a traveling musician was great and I wanted to use it to close out the blog post.

Appreciating life as a musician