(This is a couple of weeks old, as I’ve been very busy, but I may as well post it here all the same…)
I missed the tail end of yesterday’s big basketball story (UAB’s upset of Kentucky) because Kate and I went to see singer, songwriter, and all-around cheery guy Richard Thompson in concert last night. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision, as Kate stumbled across a mention of the show (at the Egg) a couple of days ago, and I said “Sure, let’s go.”
As appropriate for an impulse buy, the show ended up being surprising on several levels.
Even before Thompson took the stage, it was an interesting scene. As we milled around in the lobby area between the opening act and the main show, I was struck by how oddly familiar the crowd looked. It was a weird mix of people who looked like they belonged in SF fandom, and people who looked like they belonged in academia. (Plus one guy in black jeans, a black shirt, and a beret, because it’s a law of nature that there’s always at least one dink who comes to a concert dressed just like the main act…)
I’m not sure why this surprised me, given that Thompson isn’t really noted for his popularity among the teenage skateboarder set, but of all the concerts I’ve been to, it’s the one where I felt least out of place, being a slightly fannish academic. This, of course, made me profoundly uneasy.
The show itself was also fairly novel, in that I only knew about one song in four. A lot of the others sounded sort of familiar, as he has a knack for writing that sort of song, but there would aways come a point where I realized “Nope. Don’t actually know this song.” (Annoyingly, several of them fail to turn up on the lyrics search page. I’m not sure if that means they were covers, or if it’s just not as good a search engine as it could be…)
This was only the second time I’ve ever had that happen (the first being the Pietasters at Toad’s Place in New Haven, when I was in town looking for an apartment). I don’t go to all that many concerts, and when I do go to see a band, it’s usually because I’ve got nearly every album they’ve ever recorded, and know the words to most of the songs. In this case, I own three albums and a best-of collection out of Thompson’s thirty-odd years of recording, so it was a different experience. (I do own (and am presently listening to) his most recent album, so I recognized those songs, and some of the older stuff was familiar, but there’s a huge gap in the middle part of his career…)
The stage show consisted of, well, Richard Thompson. With a guitar, a microphone, and an effects pedal or two. And that was pretty much it. As with the John Hiatt show we went to last year, it was really striking how much sound he managed to generate with just one guitar. It was also a wonderful demonstration of what a great guitarist the guy is. You can tell that he’s good on the albums, but it wasn’t obvious just how good until I heard him playing by himself. I have a better idea now why really talented musicians admire him so much (beyond his obvious gift for lyrics).
(Listening to him perform really drives home how much of an influence he has on the whole “Bordertown” crowd, and Emma Bull in particular. When he played “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, Kate leaned over to me and said “Now I need to re-read Finder again…)
He didn’t do much in the way of re-arranging songs, save for singing a few songs that originally had Linda Thompson on vocals. That certainly puts a slightly different spin on “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”, but it wasn’t a radical re-working of the song by any stretch. Some of the new material, “Outside of the Inside” in particular, was slightly less intense in person, probably because of the change in instrumentation, but that’s about it.
I was also impressed by the range of stuff he did. He’s not noted for being a really upbeat guy, but he did a couple of songs that weren’t depressing at all. One was a slightly silly song about Alexander Graham Bell, the other was an incredibly silly song about Janet Jackson, urging her to consider a second career as a wet nurse. His stage patter was also great– he joked with the people who were yelling out requests (one request, which he heard as “Three Legged Horse” became a running joke), and had a great sense of humor in his song introductions.
Of course, the silly songs made for some major mood swings, as he followed happy, bouncy songs with crashingly depressing ones. It was a little like listening to a stack of his CD’s with an exceptionally perverse shuffle play feature. He spanned pretty much the whole range, though, from the Janet Jackson ditty to “The End of the Rainbow”, and everything in between. He closed the show on a great note, too, with “Beeswing,” which was really quite lovely. That song alone would be enough to get me to buy more of his records.
All in all, a very good show. He played for about two hours, with a couple of short encores, and the crowd ate it up. It’s a nice place to see this sort of show, too: the theater only holds about 1000 people, and while the seats we had provided a fairly oblique view of the stage, it’s not like there were fabulous visuals that we were missing, and we were close to the stage.
(Originally posted to Uncertain Principles.)