In the music spotlight: Jonathan Coulton
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On Jonathan Coulton’s previous visit to Chicago’s Vic Theatre, the winkingly self-proclaimed “internet superstar” opened a perfect bill with They Might Be Giants. If TMBG are the reigning nerd-rock world champions, Coulton is their next-generation counterpart. With his DIY approach and sharp-witted songs, Coulton’s career has seen a steady rise since he began releasing material in 2003.
Coulton’s best-known songs celebrating geek culture include “Code Monkey,” a lovelorn ode that strikes close to the bone for any professional computer programmer who finds the movie “Office Space” to be simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenchingly sad. “Skullcrusher Mountain” is the tale of a mad scientist attempting to multi-task at romance and world domination.
One of Coulton’s most touching numbers from his ambitious “Thing a Week” project in 2006 was “I’m Your Moon.” In the song, Pluto’s moon Charon expresses comfort, undying support and companionship despite the loss of its partner’s status as a planet.
Coulton’s success has been achieved without a traditional label or major radio support. The album “Artificial Heart” arrived in 2011, including “Still Alive” and “Want You Gone.” Both songs were included in releases of the video game Portal. “Je Suis Rick Springfield” imagined the ’80s pop idol or a shady impostor trying to use star status to pick up dates in a French bar.
More recently, Coulton has served as house musician on NPR game show “Ask Me Another” and has written material for “SpongeBob: The Musical” currently running at the Oriental Theatre. “You Wouldn’t Know” was featured in the 2015 game Lego Dimensions.
Announcements for talent on Coulton’s seventh annual week-long “nerd cruise” are due this summer. Previous JoCo Cruise guests included Aimee Mann, Ted Leo, and cruise co-producers Paul and Storm. The musical comedy duo joins Coulton at his headlining Vic Theatre date.
Coulton’s recent cruise saw the debut of new material including “Brave,” a cheeky jab at internet trolls. New song “All This Time” is set within sci-fi doomsday scenario, with an introspective undercurrent.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.