A Medieval Sing Along at Town Hall
Richard Thompson has made a career of solid folk songwriting, emotional directness and honesty, and virtuoso guitar playing. As he played an intimate acoustic show at New York’s Town Hall, he did not disappoint. Richard Thompson is a true showman. Just as much of his music hearkens back to the troubadour flair of medieval Europe, Thompson is like a wandering minstrel, displaying his wares for the audience’s wonder and appreciation. You get the feeling that he is above the corporateness of so much rock music today—he is wonderfully anachronistic. The crowd has paid for a good show, and he was going to give it.
Thompson’s opening act, folk rocker Amy Correia, was an unexpected delight. She is a wonderful mix of Beth Orton and Jeff Buckley. Her voice is gravely and sexy, soft and sweet. She ran through a 40 minute set of songs from her Capitol debut, Carnival Life accompanied by an electric cellist. She was absolutely sublime as she scaled the heights of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose”, winning over an audience that had been anxious for Thompson’s appearance.
When he finally did take the stage, he did not pale in comparison. His voice and playing were impeccable. His rich deep baritone was indistinguishable from his performances on record, especially shining on the more delicate ballads such as “Dry My Tears and Move On” or “Walking on a Wire” from his 1982 classic Shoot Out the Lights. The well-worn blurb about seeing Thompson live is that he makes one guitar sound like two or sometimes even three. Not to fall into cliché, but it is quite true. On such numbers as “Crawl Back (Under My Stone)” and “I Feel So Good”, Thompson literally ripped through the solos, pounding at the strings, head down, eyes intent, fingers wildly plucking, stirring the crowd into a frenzy with his acoustic majesty. Thompson, however, is more than a simple speed demon—he is incredibly tasteful. While he could break your heart with his delicate solos, such as on the incredibly heart-wrenching “Beeswing”, he could also affect an eerie ancient British Isles feel on “Uninhabited Man” from his most recent studio effort, Mock Tudor. It is this diversity that makes a Thompson show such a treat.
I was surprised, however, at his playfulness. On most of his records he comes off as a somber, serious, moody Englishman. In concert, however, he is delightfully witty and informal. The evening’s highlight was undoubtedly his anti-Kenny G tirade, “I Agree with Pat Metheny”. Responding to the jazz guitarist’s critical comments about Kenny G digitally sampling himself over a Louis Armstrong track, Thompson wrote this delightfully satiric ditty. It was childish and incisive at the same time, describing the Kenny G/Armstrong duet, for example, as, “A meeting of great minds, / Like Einstein and Sporty Spice.” Just as the hilarity reached its peak, the song ended with a final poke at the entire easy-listening scene that is so much at odds with Thompson’s earnest folk rock: he said he couldn’t wait until people laid off Kenny G and started in on Michael Bolton! Childish? Yes. Necessary? Probably not. Accurate? For anyone who can appreciate honest songwriting like Thompson’s, definitely.
Thompson invited his son, Teddy Thompson, to join him on stage during his three encores. Their voices blended beautifully, especially on the evening’s closer, the classic Richard and Linda Thompson track, “Wall of Death”. As he held up his guitar and walked off stage, Thompson seemed genuinely sincere in his appreciation—there was a humble gleam in his eye that showed him not to be your typical rock star (if you can call Thompson a rock star). After more than 30 years in the music scene, Richard Thompson is one traveling troubadour worth following.