Jonathan Coulton - Manchester Academy 3

The bloke behind me is talking about XKCD. There's a man on stage wearing a Zero Punctuation t-shirt who has just sat on my knee and serenaded my girlfriend - during a musical number based on the video game Frogger. People are screaming "Arr" like pirates, and crowd banter has frequently threatened to derail the show - and Jonathan Coulton isn't even on yet. If any of the people who were planning on attending Mr Hudson in the venue downstairs have accidentally wandered into the wrong room, they're going to think someone's spiked their drink.

The guy in the Zero Punctuation t-shirt is Paul, one half of duo Paul and Storm who begin the evening's entertainment with songs about werewolves, nuns, Frogger and, erm, seamen. Having made the mistake of embracing comments from the crowd early on in their set, they found themselves frequently interrupted, but it never got in the way of the fun. To say that they were well received is an understatement - most of the audience seemed to know their material - the last song called for a pirate chorus, but some were 'arr...'-ing before the first song began.

It's fair, then, to say that the atmosphere was a bit cliquey, and that was equally true when Jonathan Coulton arrived. There's a definite assumption of familiarity. For example, one song is introduced as requiring audience participation - but we're never told what - perhaps rightly so, as everyone in the room is word perfect, but as an outsider, it's a little baffling. Similarly, 'Still Alive' must make sense if you've played Portal, but without context and no introduction, it's meaningless in the context of a live show.

But that's a minor quibble. Most of the songs stand alone, and if you've got a geeky bone in your body, they'll raise a smile. The atmosphere in the room is contagious and it's impossible not to smile when you're in a room full of people taking part in a deliberately discordant zombie chorus shouting "All we want to do is eat your brains", or when an impromptu cover of 'Faith' complete with harmonies from Paul and Storm breaks out during the encore as a response to too many requests.

Like the character in his song 'Code Monkey', this is a show that secretly has a huge heart. The audience have a huge affection for Coulton, and it's well deserved. The uninitiated should definitely read up a little before attending, though. And hey, where else are you going to go to hear a song about the Mandlebrot Set?

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