Richard Thompson is the guitar playingest MF walking the Earth today. I realize that I repeat myself on this point, but it bears repeating.
It’s not that he’s particularly playing faster clusters of notes than anyone else, particularly tonight. His 22-song set leaned more towards the slow moody ballads, but his guitar added eloquent and nuanced emotions to ballads, uptempo pop songs, and rock n roll alike.
Thompson played the show entirely acoustic, as is his frequent custom. He makes his own electricity. Physical amplification would mostly be pointless, really.
He was accompanied for most of the show by long time friend and collaborator Danny Thompson. He plays some pounding standing bass. Then he whips out a bow, and voila! It’s a cello!
Richard Thompson took somewhat the hard route, and kicked my ass anyway. That is, he leaned towards the moody ballads, and lesser known work, including at least a couple of new songs from his upcoming album. Few people could make the melancholy jazz of “Al Bowly’s in Heaven” so immediately viscerally compelling as Mr. Thompson did here. Then there’s the beautiful championship league nihilism of “Withered and Died.” If he played “End of the Rainbow” right after, he could drive people to suicide. Speaking of which, I note with disappointment the absence of “Outside of the Inside.”
Yet for all that, his live show communicates an unmistakable overtone of joy. Most importantly, he obviously enjoys showing his skills.
Besides which, he maintains a fun banter with the audience, and leavens the proceedings with a whole little set of pop sounding fun songs which generally don’t make it onto the albums. You could almost take his song about the exploits of Alexander Graham Bell as a children’s song. “Hots for the Smarts” expresses his taste for smart chicks very eruditely. He even dug out his controversial “Hokey Pokey” song, which somehow apparently rated a BBC ban lo those many years ago.
The highlight of a happy time came with the next to the last song, “Don’t Sit on My Jimmy Shands.” This modern classic manages to be simultaneously proud and assertive, but also a little defensive and self-deprecating. Thus, in his introduction he gently mocked Jimmy Shands, the late Scottish polka king, who apparently as much as said that Scottish music would die with him. Yet Richard also exalts the virtues of Shands’ style, hardcore Scottish polka – not that wussy Lawrence Welk “white polka.” Right on!
He completes this with just a few full-throttle tunes. For my $23, the best hit of the night was cut #5, “Crawl Back Under My Rock.” He really brought down the rock fury. “Feel So Good” near the end of the show topped off the driving rhythms. Now, if we could just get him to add “Psycho Street” to the playlist.
Naturally, he played “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” This has emerged as his most essential concert staple. He got by without playing “Shoot Out the Lights,” but it wouldn’t have done for him to try exiting the building without playing “Vincent.” I keep thinking of this as a big rock song, Richard Thompson’s answer to “Born to Run.” Yet really, it’s more a folk song by rights. It makes just as good a sense as the bluegrass standard it has become. Still, I’d like to hear Jethro Tull take a run at this. Sort of connects to “Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die.”
Finally, he sent us off into the night haunted by strains of “Ghosts in the Winds.”
One thing, this show reminds me that anyone who doesn’t have the Rumor and Sigh and Mock Tudor albums in their collection simply has their priorities screwed up. What’s wrong with you people?
PS A couple of notes about the venue. The Music Mill is a nice new club at 82nd and Dean. It’s very nice, as Richard notes, still “shiny.”
On the other hand, they didn’t have even half enough chairs. They just expect people to pay good money to not even get a place to sit. This is particularly dumb when you’re putting on a show drawing a more mature audience like this. A paying customer shouldn’t have to show their ass just to get a seat to plant it on. It wasn’t that overly crowded. They just weren’t prepared. What’s the problem? You’ve spent a million bucks or so on the fancy new building, and you can’t conjure up a few hundred bucks for some simple folding chairs from the Wal Mart?
FUN ON THE DARKSIDE WITH RICHARD THOMPSON