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I once had a really nice slice of key lime pie at a Jonathan Richman show. And as Richman extolled the virtues of ice-cream vendors and public transit, it occurred to me that my pie was the ultimate accompaniment to the former Modern Lover: wholesome, sweet, and a little fruity. But don’t let him fool you—the There’s Something About Mary balladeer comes from rocker roots, even if he’s shrugged off the sex, drugs, and higher decibels. Stirred by the Velvet Underground’s frequent appearances in clubs around his native Boston, Richman put together the Modern Lovers in 1971. The band recorded with John Cale in sessions that would lead to The Modern Lovers, a dirgy proto-punk record that somehow made a song about Pablo Picasso’s artistic prowess seem just as rockin’ as the “Sister Ray”-tinged “Roadrunner.” But the real Jonathan, earnest champion of abominable snowmen and little dinosaurs, wouldn’t emerge until his solo years. Richman’s songs without the Lovers are musically stripped down and lyrically charged with an almost manic longing for innocence. He sings about self-esteem, flowers, and how pretty girls look in jeans. He cries onstage. A lot. Sometimes audiences get it, sometimes they get pissed off, but his confrontational sincerity keeps people interested. Over the years, Richman has remained as varied as he has been prolific, recording as Calypso Jonathan, Country-Western Jonathan, and even Spanish-Language Jonathan before returning to basics with 1998’s I’m So Confused. And though his best songs may be destined to become lullabies for procreating hipsters, he will always be way more hardcore than Raffi. Feel the love with no trace of irony when he plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $12. (202) 393-0930. (Shauna Miller)